Devante Jackson took tall leadership role in title year
Center named to NOW All-Suburban Team
Devante Jackson hasn't stopped smiling since March 15.
That was the day the 6-foot, 9-inch center and his Brown Deer boys basketball teammates won the school's first WIAA State Division 3 title in Madison over Lodi.
It stayed through the fun bus ride home later that weekend, and it stayed with him when he was named WBCA Division 3 first-team all-state, and it lingered around when the team was recently celebrated before the Brown Deer School Board.
"I've never had a feeling like this before," said Jackson, who was just named a member of the NOW Newspapers All-Suburban basketball team. "I just feel so honored."
Lifting up his team
He should, because Jackson took a young team on his shoulders and helped lift them to great heights. He was the only returning starter off a very good team from a year ago, but with some key transfers and players off a very good junior varsity team helping out, NOW coach of the year Kelly Appleby still had some big ideas for Jackson and the team.
"After every practice I call some players into my office and talk to them (about their progress and the team's progress)," said Appleby. "With Devante I brought him in right after the first practice. We told him that this is your team, you're the senior and this is going to be on you.
"We'll go as far as you can take us."
Jackson eventually took the challenge to heart. He said he was not eligible for the first game of the season, a win over University School, and saw what kind of potential there was.
"I didn't play that first game and they still dominated," he said. "I said to myself, 'If they're doing that without me, how much better could they be with me?'"
Jackson then became the leader Appleby needed, even through the rough parts of the season, like the four-game losing streak in mid-December that took the edge off a 6-0 start.
"That was easily the most down point of the season," said Jackson. "Our confidence was down but we reminded ourselves that even good teams have down points. We just had to find a way back."
Surrounded by talent
They did through Jackson, his 6-6 frontcourt mate Jerry Luckett, all-world defender Zack Baun and veteran guard Lewrenzo Byers, who would hit clutch shot after clutch shot throughout the six-game tournament run.
It was a little surprising that Jackson wound up in that position as he was not always as tall he is now nor always as motivated to play basketball.
"I played when I was younger," he said., 'but not really that seriously until eighth grade and I was only around 6-1 at that point, but around freshman, sophomore year I started growing. I tell you, it took me time to get used to it."
And with the urging of his mother, Diane Halton, he got more seriously into basketball. The prospective football star (he was still a wide receiver for the Falcons this past fall) found his future.
"She (his mother) told me that if you keep working hard that you're going to do something great," he said.
Not that it came easily. He was looking forward to a life as a back-to-the-basket post when varsity tryouts began under new coach Appleby in 2011-12, but then the coach introduced his fast-paced, up-and-down system, and the lanky Jackson admitted it was a hard sell to him.
"It was very difficult at first," he said. "I didn't like to run up and down all that much, but I got used to it. I had no choice. I had my height, I had to find a way to use it to my advantage (within the system)."
Jackson admits that the conditioning heavy practices did help him erase his bad habit of laziness.
"Now I'm more aggressive," he said.
Winning made it all easier. The Falcons were 15-9 that first year and then won conference last year at 21-4. Then came the large exodus of players to graduation and that call into Appleby's office.
Jackson admits he had to change his personality a little bit after that, become a little more outgoing.
"Sometimes I'm quiet," he said. "Once I get used to you though I can talk to anyone."
That became the case with the Nicolet transfer Luckett.
"We realized that we could do this and we could do that (with our combined height)," Jackson said. "We hit it off right away."
Jackson was helped in the leadership department by his coach who also used assistant coach Bryan Donaldson to fire up the troops when needed.
"He gave us a lot of good speeches," said Jackson of Donaldson. "Things like 'If we practice hard, the basketball gods will reward us (laughs).'"
And they did. Jackson is now sifting through college offers and will make a decision soon. He remains grateful for all that has happened in the last few years and especially in the last few months.
"It (the state title) is just such an awesome feeling," he said. "It's the thing you work for starting when you're a little kid. Just amazing!"
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