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Rick Jackson’s Uphill Climb Continues

In a way, it’s fitting that Rick Jackson wasn’t get drafted Thursday night. In the studded 2007 Syracuse recruiting class, Jackson was somewhat on the wayside next to flashy newcomers Johnny Flynn and Donte’ Greene. Though Greene left after his freshman year, Jackson stayed behind Kristof Ongenaet on the depth chart, only to finally be freed after the first handful of games of the 2008-09 season. Despite incremental improvements over his four years at Syracuse that resulted in him being a focal point of every defense’s game plan last season, Rick was again slighted, relegated to the All-Big East Second Team, even though he led the conference in rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks per game.

Going into Thursday night, there was a chance that Jackson wouldn’t get drafted. The players selected in the middle to late portions of the second round are typically organizational filler and are subsequently hard to predict, but having your name called is what these players work so hard for, so from that perspective, I was disappointed for the former power forward. The frustration mounted as I watched an alphabet soup of international players, accompanied by pixelated footage, plucked with the waning selections of the second round, and ESPN went in an unprofessional direction with their analysis, openly mocking the draftees’ names and video quality of whatever content they could pull.

All told, this was a strange draft from the early stages. In April, some of the top names in college hoops decided, without much public waffling, to stay in school. I remember hearing about Baylor’s Perry Jones being suspended for the Big 12 Tournament and a small number of games next season back in March, and everybody’s reaction was to the tune of “why bother suspending him for next season when he’s going to be a lottery pick in three months?” Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and Terrence Jones also stayed with their programs rather than test uncertain NBA labor waters.

Meanwhile, players like Darius Morris and Malcolm Lee, to an approximately equal surprise left their schools early, and while I understand that there are a few skeptical decisions made every season when it comes to declaring for the draft, it seemed like there was little reason for players to test the waters if they didn’t get the impression from evaluators that they would be a first-round pick. If they got that impression and reality didn’t match up, those players are probably looking around a little bit wondering about the people with whom they chose to surround themselves.I also understand (though certainly not firsthand) that the dangling carrot of millions of dollars does some funny things to people when it comes to decision-making.

On draft night, things got much stranger. Josh Harrelson, affectionately nicknamed “Jorts” by the college basketball community, was picked by the Hornets and later traded to the Knicks. Josh Selby had a Wile E. Coyote-esque fall into the late stages of the second round. I imagine his draft party was about as boisterous as SU’s 2007 NCAA Tournament Selection Show gathering.

Now, Rick Jackson will have a chance to work out for a few teams. With the summer league having been canceled earlier this month, it’s more important than ever for him to make an impression. It’s a tough hand to be dealt, but it’s nothing new for the big guy.

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