Feb. 19, 2009

By Lara Boyko
Special to NCAA.com

Of all the scary places when you are a kid, it’s hard to believe that a basketball court can be considered one of them. However, for 6-foot-2 Amber Jackson, now a senior forward at North Texas, the basketball court was once a very scary place.

“I was 5-years old when my mom put me in a league,” said Jackson. “I remember being very young, only playing with boys and being afraid to shoot the ball. I think the boys were nice in letting me try to score at times, but I was also timid.”

Fortunately just a few things changed for Jackson on the basketball court and it is no longer a scary place to be. Instead, she has found it a pleasant place to be as demonstrated by being a preseason Naismith Award candidate and being ranked in the top 100 in three categories – 19th in rebounds, 48th in scoring and 63rd in field goal percentage.

“Night in and night out, she really leads by example in the way she scores, rebounds and is a competitor,” said North Texas Coach Shanice Stephens. “She will be missed next year, but she has challenged some people to do their very best.”

Stephens may be a model of consistency on the court, but it took some scary events both on and off the court to help her find some peace on the hardwood.

The first scary incident came before her freshman year when she experienced the most feared injury in women’s basketball.

“We were doing a three-on-three rebounding drill with our boys scout team when a teammate and I both went for the ball,” said Jackson. “We were about to collide, so I tried to pull back. Instead I ended up landing awkward and heard a snap in my knee.”

She had torn her ACL.

“I was in denial for a little while. I thought it was just a sprain and did not need surgery. However, by going through rehab and sitting on the sidelines where I got to see what the coaches saw helped me feel like I got some experience to see what we don’t do as players. I took advantage of that part, but it was hard to sit for the entire season.”

After taking a step back in 2004, it was in 2005 when Jackson would get to start taking steps forward in having the court be her friend again. During her freshman year, Jackson finished as the fourth leading scorer on the team and shot 50 percent or better in 12 games. From the modest start as a freshman, it was her sophomore and junior years where she really excelled.

As a sophomore Jackson was second on the team in scoring and led the team in field goals. Then last season started to really shine as she led the Mean Green North Texas team in scoring, field goals, field goal percentage and rebounding.

Yet even with her stock rising, it was the unexpected events of life last year that served as a reality check for Jackson.

“With the passing of my father it was a wake-up call that I wasn’t immune to losing loved ones,” said Jackson of her father Vincent who passed away at 53 of a heart attack last season. “I had to deal with wills, funerals arrangements and a lot of things that told me that I wasn’t a kid anymore. I definitely grew up a lot.”

Along with mourning the loss of her father, Jackson also had another adjustment to go through as the program went through a coaching change with the hiring of Stephens after last season. After clashing with Stephens and being suspended from the team early on in the season, Jackson decided to grow up a little bit more.

“I had disagreements with player-coach relations and what was expected from me,” said Jackson. “I didn’t have the best attitude and I didn’t want to give in at that point in time. I was being hard-headed and rebellious.

“I went home right before school started when a friend of the family reminded me that I needed to do whatever it took to be able to play again if I really wanted to play again,” said Jackson. “I was also reminded that my new coach was just doing things to help me be a better player, so I came back, apologized to my coach and teammates and worked extremely hard to prove that I wasn’t going to be a problem this season. It has made me appreciate basketball more and work harder.”

Now after overcoming some scary events, Jackson is ending her collegiate career on a high – over 1,000 points high to be exact -- and no longer timid on a basketball court.

“It’s very surreal to think about this being my last season,” said Jackson. “I am just taking it one day at a time and it will probably won’t be until after our season is done when I realize that I am really done with college basketball. “