After taking two days off to deal with what University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner termed a “personal matter,” sophomore guard Joe Jackson returned to practice Monday and will play against Tennessee on Jan. 4.
Jackson, the second-leading scorer on the team at 11.8 points per game, was reportedly mulling a transfer due to his discontent with being benched after last month’s 70-59 loss to Georgetown, but he denied ever considering leaving the Tigers program.
“I’m 100 percent. I always wanted to be here,” Jackson said. “I knew that in middle school. I’m not leaving. I’m not even having a thought about leaving Memphis. I don’t know where people get that from. I just gotta get better.”
Jackson and Pastner had a meeting on Sunday in which Pastner said the 5-foot-11 guard reaffirmed his commitment to the program.
“He understands that he just needs to take it one possession at a time. He has both feet in,” Pastner said. “For my program, for Tiger Nation’s program, you gotta have both feet in. As we move forward, that’s that.”
Jackson came off the bench for the first time this season in a 64-47 win against Robert Morris Dec. 29, but was held scoreless in 21 minutes. He did not play in the Tigers’ 67-58 win against Charlotte on New Year’s Eve.
“Joe had a personal issue, and I felt being a head coach that the best decision was giving him 48 hours to clear up those personal issues,” Pastner said. “Once those issues were cleared up, he understood that you’re having both feet in. It’s either two feet in — there’s no gray area on that.”
Last season, Jackson was benched after 27 games and subsequently played with more motivation. He led the Tigers to a NCAA tournament berth after an epic comeback victory against UTEP in the Conference USA tournament championship in El Paso a.
He played with the U-19 USA team this offseason and figured to capitalize on the momentum of the postseason. It just hasn’t worked out to his liking thus far, he said.
“It may just be a way of life. I might have to go through this to get me where I wanna go,” Jackson said. “It’s kinda painful at times, but I’ve gotta be able to excel to the level I wanna play to. I know if I just work and continue to work — I know I’ve got the talent. Everything’s connected.”
The Tigers, ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason, stumbled to a 6-5 start after a rough go in the Maui tournament and a loss at home to then-unranked Murray State. Jackson, who started the season at point guard, was moved to the 2-guard spot against Jackson State on Nov. 28 and Pastner handed the reins to sophomore guard Chris Crawford.
Jackson said his frustration didn’t stem exclusively from switching positions or being benched but rather the volume of losses early in the season.
“I have faith in myself and in my teammates,” Jackson said. “It ain’t that I’m mad about my performance. I’m just mad about losing along with that too, because I’m a winner. If we were sitting here at 10-1 or 10-2, I wouldn’t be frustrated like I am. It’s a mixture of both. I can’t accept losing like that.”
Coming out of White Station High School, Jackson was faced with much loftier expectations than his peers like sophomore forward Tarik Black and Crawford. As a result, the diminutive point guard has been under much more scrutiny.
His miscues, sophomore guard Will Barton said, are therefore mostly due to him over-thinking situations and being too hard on himself.
“He just needs to focus on him and the team,” Barton said. “No other distractions, people in his ear. He just needs to sit down and look himself in the mirror and get back on track. He’s a great player. Once he realizes what he can do and does it, he’s gonna be fine.”