Loren Cristian Jackson finally feels comfortable in his role as point guard for the University of Akron men’s basketball team.
Jackson, whose father is a basketball coach, has scored in double digits in his past seven games — including averaging 20 points in the past three games — and has evolved into a go-to guy for the Zips. His efforts are needed, given the inconsistency and inefficiency the team has shown, especially during the Mid-American Conference portion of the schedule.
Overall, Jackson is averaging more than 14 points, three rebounds and three assists per game for the Zips (14-10, 6-5) after scoring a team-high 20 points in 30 minutes in a 76-70 loss Tuesday to league-leading Buffalo.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it — the ups, the downs, the good, the bad,” he said of his first year on the court for UA after sitting out last season because of transfer rules. “This year’s been great. The competition in the MAC, it’s been phenomenal. I just love playing against all of these good guards in the MAC.”
That comfort level has come recently for several reasons. First, he’s figured some things out in the MAC. Given that he is 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, that was bound to take some time.
“I’ve been small my whole life, so it doesn’t really affect me at all. I know how to get my shot off,” he said. "I know what things I can get away with that a bigger point guard can’t.
“And it does provide me a chip on my shoulder. People look at me and they’re like, ‘He’s small, he’s skinny, he can’t be good,' so that provides a chip on my shoulder to help me work every day and prove them wrong.”
Plenty of recent UA point guards have played with such a chip. But Jackson reminds teammate Jimond Ivey of two guards who last played at UA under former coach Keith Dambrot.
“Cristian kind of reminds me of Noah [Robotham] with his poise,” Ivey said. “Probably a little bit of Antino [Jackson] with his scoring ability. Probably those two mixed into one — just shorter.”
Depending on the situation, that’s a compliment. Lately, there’s been a bit more Antino Jackson in his game with a willingness to play aggressively on offense.
“We encourage him to do what he does. When he’s aggressive, our team is at its best,” Ivey said. “When he’s aggressive scoring the ball and distributing the ball, being a facilitator and being aggressive in general, he puts our team in position to do the best that it can.”
Aggressive play is a good thing, but the key for Jackson is being consistent. Despite his double-digit scoring streak, he’s still only a 35 percent shooter. That has to improve. He has the green light from coach John Groce to take the shots he sees. He also has the confidence.
“I know I can make shots,” he said. “I’ve just got to make them, that’s all.”
However, being paired in the backcourt with a steadily improving Tyler Cheese, who offers size and complementary skills, hasn't hurt. If the two can continue to produce together, UA and Groce could be in good shape.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.