MADISON, Wis. Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor likes to joke with teammate Traevon Jackson that he and his father are mirror images of each other.
"It looks like his dad spit him out of his mouth," Taylor says. "They have the same body type."
The comparisons are only natural. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Traevon may be a few inches shorter than his father 6-foot-6 former NBA star Jim Jackson but the two bear a striking resemblance to each other. What draws most of the parallels, however, is their love for the game of basketball.
For Traevon, the comparisons on the court haven't always been easy. His father was a two-time All-American at Ohio State, the No. 4 selection in the 1992 NBA draft and played 14 years in the league.
Attempting to carry on that legacy of excellence can be both a gift and a curse, Traevon admits. During middle school, he felt as though it was a curse.
"I was nervous and stuff," says Traevon, now a freshman guard for the Badgers. "If I had a bad game, I used to be thinking ... people would think, 'Oh, you're Jim Jackson's son and you're not even that good.'"
The issue stemmed from his own self-conscious, but he worked through that struggle and put it behind him. The only way he knew how was to continue honing his game until others recognized him for his own value on the court. Now, Traevon can reflect positively on the experience, appreciating that his upbringing helped shape him into the person and player he is today.
Expectations are high
When Traevon was growing up, he served as a ball boy on many of Jim's NBA teams, and there were several Jim tied a league record by playing for 12 different franchises. Traevon had the opportunity to be in the locker room and learn from the pros, particularly toward the end of Jim's career, with the Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers.
"He got a chance to work out with a lot of these guys, play against these guys when he was in high school," says Jim, 41, who retired after the 2005-06 season. "He was able to understand the business side of the game, whether it's college or pro. He was exposed to a lot of things in the NBA. From a worldly perspective, a maturity perspective, he had a lot of different experiences from fathers who didn't play professionally. I think that's why he's so much more mature."
Jim's experiences in the NBA opened doors for Traevon to meet with and glean valuable information from professional players. It's where Jim says Traevon developed his competitive spirit. But it also meant that wherever Traevon went as a basketball player, particularly in the state of Ohio where they both grew up, he was compared to his father.
It was an exercise in patience for Traevon, who steadily worked his way into becoming one of the top high school players in Ohio, but still heard the parallels being made.
"Expectations are high when you have any guy that's got a dad that played at that level," Wisconsin assistant coach Lamont Paris says. "There's going to be a lot of expectations on you, and people are going to make comparisons to you. It's just like the Michael Jordans of the world. Even though his kids had their own successes in college, people are still probably going to try to compare them to Mike, which is completely unfair.
"Especially early in his career, Trae's dad was a heck of a player. Trae will be in his own right as well. Different guy, different size, different positions, but he'll be a good player in his own right."
Forging his own path
By the time Traevon reached ninth grade, he says he began to put any whispers about comparisons with his father aside. He'd already developed into a talented player, and the opportunity to star at Westerville South High School in Westerville, Ohio, was right in front of him.
"I think it's better just to go out there and play," Traevon says. "People start respecting you when you play, regardless of what your parents did. They'll know if you can play or not. That's what I've figured out. I know I can play."
As a sophomore, he was named first-team all-conference and received his first scholarship offer from Akron. The offer, Traevon says, proved he was worthy of being a Division I player. It also occurred to him that people were beginning to call him Traevon instead of Jimmy's son.
"There's a certain door that opened because you are my son," Jim says. "But he did a great job of understanding that and kind of carving out his own niche with who he was in his game."
Traevon led Westerville South to a 20-0 regular season during his junior year, averaging 19.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists. And as a senior, he earned second-team all-state honors after averaging 18.3 points 7.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He left Westerville South as the school's all-time leading scorer.
His performance piqued the interest of Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Mid-American Conference programs, all of which offered him a scholarship. Ultimately, he picked Wisconsin over Arizona State.
He didn't receive a scholarship offer from Ohio State, where Jim starred 20 years earlier, even though Traevon's high school was located about 15 miles north of Columbus.
"It was best," Jim says. "It gave him a neat opportunity to get out of Columbus and really grow as a young man."
A bright future
During his first season at Wisconsin, Traevon has played sparingly. He's appeared in 11 of 17 games, averaging eight minutes per contest.
It's a frustrating position for Traevon, but it's also to be expected from most freshmen in a Big Ten program. Traevon is the fifth guard in a rotation that regularly plays four this season under coach Bo Ryan.
But Traevon's teammates recognize that his time will come soon enough.
"He's really talented," says Taylor, a preseason All-American. "He's crafty. He's a fun guy to compete against. Ever since (preseason) open gym, he doesn't really care who he's going against. He's going to come out and try and play hard no matter what.
"I think he relishes the challenge of playing against guys who some may view as better than him. He doesn't play a lot of minutes, but just talking to him coming into the games, he'll take the challenge."
Traevon's game differs considerably from that of his father's. Jim was a natural scorer, a slasher-type who once averaged 25.7 points per game in a season for the Dallas Mavericks. Traevon considers himself more of a distributor who looks to score second, and his tough-nosed defense has him on the cusp of consistently cracking the rotation.
"There's so many guys who, as freshmen, were about in his position who later on got to be pretty big contributors," says Ryan, in his 11th season as Wisconsin's head coach. "It's still about what's coming, but he's worked hard every day. He loves being in the competitive situation on the floor. Guys like that can make the team better, and he's doing that."
Throughout the difficult process of riding the bench, Traevon has been able to lean on his father for advice. As luck would have it, Jim Jackson is now an analyst for the Big Ten Network and has called four of Traevon's games in Madison. They usually eat a meal together or see a movie the night before a game, and the topic of conversation, not surprisingly, shifts toward basketball.
When they discuss hoops, Jim tells Traevon to stay patient and wait his turn. He points out that even Wisconsin stars Taylor and Jon Leuer didn't fill out the box score with major minutes during their freshmen seasons. Taylor, now one of the top point guards in college basketball, averaged 13 minutes per game. Leuer, now in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, played just eight minutes per contest just like Traevon.
Jim, who contributed significantly in his first few years in college, also understands being on the other side of the fence. As his NBA career wound down, he played sparingly and had to come to grips with the change.
It's a comparison Traevon can truly appreciate.
"It's tough," Traevon says. "Obviously, you want to play. My job right now is to be the best scout team player, just to help the team. I'll do whatever it takes to help the team out.
"But he tells me to keep my head up. He went through a lot of the same things toward the end of his career. He was on a totally different stage, was a top-10 player in the country, college Player of the Year. For him, he said he felt the same thing the last couple years he wasn't playing. You've got to find ways to stick it out."
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