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Valencia guard Lonnie Jackson: Attention, please

As the spotlight on him has intensified, Jackson has learned to make the most of it

Posted: January 11, 2010 8:33 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Valencia's Lonnie Jackson has learned to balance his game with setting up his teammates, and the Vikings are off to a 13-2 start because of it.

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There used to be a time when Valencia’s Lonnie Jackson could be rattled.

Given his tremendous talent, the spotlight was often on him.

Teams gear their defense toward stopping him. Some talk trash to throw him off his game.

But the junior off-guard has figured out how to deal with the spotlight.

That doesn’t bode well for opponents, who haven’t really figured out how to stop him yet.

“Sophomore year, I think I was kind of immature,” Jackson says. “I was arguing with the refs and that stuff. This year I’ve matured a lot. I’ve realized what I have to do to win and set an example to my teammates.”

Neither Jackson nor Valencia head coach Rocket Collins believe there’s anything magical involved in his maturation process.

By getting more and more experience with his teammates, he learned how to balance his talents with the need to get other players involved.

It also didn’t hurt that he was being coached by Collins, who is third all-time at The Master’s College in assists and knows a thing or two about sharing the basketball.

It’s as simple as that.

Jackson’s game, on the other hand, is much more complex.

He enters Foothill League play this season averaging 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game, all while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 88 percent from the line.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 163-pound guard is great off the dribble. He has can shoot from all over the floor. He’s an excellent free-throw shooter. His vision helps him pick out open teammates. He’s a good defender.

It’s Jackon’s all-around skills that led to his making the varsity team as a freshman in 2007-08.

“Everybody thought it was because he could shoot, but that’s not it,” Collins says. “It’s because he had a basketball sense. The reason why it’s hard to keep him from scoring is he can’t just shoot the three. He can go to the basket, get rebounds, shoot free throws.”

Jackson’s game was so sharp that he contemplated playing at a traditional power like Westchester or Taft of Woodland Hills, where the spotlight was brighter.

“I wasn’t sold on playing in the Foothill League because of the exposure,” says Jackson, who also plays on the Double Pump AAU travel team, which has produced NBA players like Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar.

Ultimately, Jackson decided that the Foothill League gave him an opportunity to show what he can do. He decided that AAU would provide him enough exposure.

As it turned out, high school basketball in the area was much tougher than he thought.

Jackson says that in his first scrimmage against Harvard-Westlake, he attacked the basket and was sailing in for what he thought was an easy layup.

Wolverines forward Renaldo Woolridge, a future University of Tennessee recruit, had other ideas.

Jackson says Woolridge swatted his attempt all the way out to midcourt, and it was one of many learning experiences that season.

“My freshman year, I was just getting my feet wet, trying to do the little things,” Jackson says. “Everyone knew I was a scorer. Everyone knew I could shoot. I was trying to set up (former Foothill League MVP) Johnny Otavka. I was trying to play defense, stop their best player, run the floor, take charges. I knew my time was going to come.”

His time came earlier than most players. All five starters on Valencia’s 2007-08 league champion graduated, leaving Jackson as the go-to guy last season.

While Jackson admits to being immature at times, Valencia co-head coach Greg Hayes looks at it a different way.

“I thought as a sophomore he showed incredible maturity to handle a lot,” says Hayes, who also credits Jackson’s parents as excellent role models. “He’ll look back at this year and say, ‘I matured a lot.’ That’s just a natural process for him. He had the attention of a senior last year as a sophomore.”

Jackson’s going to get more and more attention for the rest of his high school career.

He already has a scholarship offer from Arizona State and says he’s being pursued by a lot of different schools.

But college can wait. First, he wants to return Valencia to the top of the Foothill League.

And he knows he needs his teammates’ help.

Jackson says he models his game after Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who has learned to get his teammates more involved while retaining his killer instinct.

Jackson also says he tries to emulate Trail Blazers swingman Brandon Roy, who rarely shows his emotions on the court.

It’s all rolled into one phenomenal package wearing No. 20 for Valencia.

“In the beginning of the game, I’m extra aggressive,” Jackson says. “The first quarter’s the most important. I see which of my guys are going. ... In the second quarter I’m getting others going. In the fourth quarter I’m trying to close the show.”

It’s just another example of how Jackson is now embracing the spotlight.

In an effort to summarize all the different qualities Jackson brings to Valencia, Collins references a collage of Bryant that appeared last year.

The collage included several pictures of Bryant in a Lakers uniform, but each picture had something different written on the back.

“MVP.” “Leader.” “Friend.”

The thing is, Collins sees someone different.

“I don’t see Kobe,” Collins says. “I see Lonnie.”


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