Game­cocks guard Jack­son re­turns home to face Alabama State, coached by her mom

The State (Sunday) - - Sports - BY GREG HADLEY ghadley@thes­tate.com

While most of col­lege bas­ket­ball kicked off the sea­son ear­lier this week, South Carolina’s women’s team waited.

That wait will end Sun­day, and it will do so in mean­ing­ful fash­ion, as Dawn Sta­ley and the Game­cocks open their sched­ule against a unique op­po­nent.

Alabama State, a small school in Mont­gomery, Ala., is coached on the men’s side by Lewis Jack­son and on the women’s side by Freda Free­man­jack­son — one of the only hus­band-wife duos to coach Di­vi­sion I bas­ket­ball. And their daugh­ter, Bianca Jack­son, is a sopho­more guard for South Carolina.

Jack­son be­gan her col­lege ca­reer last sea­son by go­ing against her mother and Alabama State at Colo­nial Life Arena, play­ing 28 min­utes and scor­ing eight points as the Game­cocks routed the Hor­nets, 99-31. Now, she’ll start her se­cond year of col­lege ball in her home town.

“I think it’s an in­cred­i­ble story that’s part of women’s bas­ket­ball that prob­a­bly hasn’t been talked about enough, to have a par­ent as the men’s and women’s bas­ket­ball coaches at the DI level, to play at this level, to open up your ca­reer last year and have your mom on the op­pos­ing side­line, and then to open up at home on home­com­ing,” Sta­ley said. “It should be a pretty good crowd. It’s ex­cit­ing for Bianca and both her par­ents.”

Af­ter grow­ing up around the coaches and play­ers at Alabama State, Jack­son said there has been a healthy amount of trash talk­ing head­ing into Sun­day’s game, al­though USC is ex­pected to win com­fort­ably. But she said it will still be nice to have fam­ily and friends in the stands, and they will see each other af­ter the game, hav­ing taken care of busi­ness.

For Jack­son, the dif­fer­ence be­tween last year’s opener and this one is stark. In be­tween, she was forced into the start­ing lineup for South Carolina by a rash of in­juries, play­ing the third-most min­utes on the team.

“I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I was kinda ner­vous (last year), first-game jit­ters, and then play­ing against my mom’s team made it a lit­tle bit more nerve-wrack­ing,” Jack­son said. “But I feel like I’ve grown a lot. Not as ner­vous any­more, I’ve feel like I’ve ma­tured a bit play­ing through last sea­son.”

Sta­ley has seen that growth, too — mostly in how of­ten she has had to en­list Jack­son’s mother for help.

“I haven’t talked to coach Jack­son (as much). Last year I talked to her a lot more, but Bianca seems to have the hang of things. When she gets out of hand, that’s usu­ally when I send a text mes­sage to say, ‘She’s do­ing this, she’s do­ing that.’ But she’s got the whole col­lege bal­anc­ing act down,” Sta­ley said.

Of the 13 play­ers on the Game­cocks’ ros­ter, seven have spent more time in col­lege than Jack­son, but her ex­pe­ri­ence in the past year has still given her vet­eran sta­tus on a team look­ing to in­te­grate sev­eral pieces that were not around or avail­able last sea­son.

“We have a lot of new peo­ple. Ob­vi­ously I’m still a sopho­more and we have a lot of older peo­ple to help lead, but I feel like I am some­what of a vet­eran be­cause I had a lot of game ex­pe­ri­ence,” Jack­son said.

For a brief mo­ment in the pre­sea­son, Sta­ley said she wor­ried that Jack­son might slip into a sopho­more slump af­ter earn­ing SEC All-fresh­man honors. Her per­for­mance in prac­tice sim­ply wasn’t that of an ex­pe­ri­enced vet­eran.

“Since then, she’s been shoot­ing the ball well, she’s been rec­og­niz­ing things out there on the floor, she’s been a sta­ple on both sides of the ball,” Sta­ley said.

“Ob­vi­ously you want to see play­ers progress that way, and she cer­tainly has ben­e­fited from play­ing a whole lot last year to be­ing one the play­ers that is one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced ones be­cause of that.”

GAME INFO

Who: No. 10/11 South Carolina (0-0) vs. Alabama State (0-1)

When: 4 p.m. Sun­day Where: Dunn-oliver Acadome, Mont­gomery, Alabama

Watch: No TV but the game is stream­ing on­line at Ba­mas­tate­s­ports.com

Ra­dio: 107.5 FM in Columbia, South Carolina In­jury re­port: South Carolina will be with­out se­nior for­ward Alexis Jen­nings, who is still re­cov­er­ing from var­i­ous “ail­ments” suf­fered in the pre­sea­son, coach Dawn Sta­ley said. She is ex­pected to re­turn for the Game­cocks’ game Thurs­day against Clem­son. Se­nior guards Bianca Cuevas­moore and Nelly Perry are ex­pected to play af­ter miss­ing the team’s ex­hi­bi­tion last Fri­day. Alabama State player to watch: Se­nior cen­ter Tatyana Cal­houn was a pre­sea­son all-con­fer­ence se­lec­tion and could ex­ploit South Carolina’s lack of size with­out Jen­nings, though she may also strug­gle to keep up with the Game­cocks’ pace. Stat to watch: De­spite los­ing to Ken­tucky in its opener 87-35, Alabama State did ac­tu­ally keep the re­bound­ing bat­tle close, at 43-35 in fa­vor of the Wild­cats.

South Carolina se­nior guard Donyiah Cliney has said re­bound­ing will be the big­gest chal­lenge the Game­cocks face this sea­son.

TRACY GLANTZ tglantz@thes­tate.com

South Carolina sopho­more guard Bianca Jack­son, shown ear­lier this sea­son, will face Alabama State, coached by her mother, Freda Free­man-jack­son, on Sun­day.

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