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A Time To Heal (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday February 5, 2008 11:00AM; Updated: Tuesday February 5, 2008 11:34PM
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Jackson pays tribute after free throws to Evon and Shawn (above).
Jackson pays tribute after free throws to Evon and Shawn (above).
David E. Klutho/SI
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First game, first half, first free throws of 2007-08, and before Jackson stepped to the line against Louisiana-Monroe in Allen Fieldhouse, he spotted his late-arriving mother wearing her right-leg boot, being helped to her seat. Shawn was in the middle of a multiweek stay at the on-campus apartment Jackson shares with teammate Brandon Rush, giving Darnell what she calls "his mama time" by hopping around on her one good leg and doing the cooking and cleaning.

She blew kisses to him from the stands; he shook his head in playful disapproval of her tardiness. Later in the half Jackson threw down a fast-break dunk so impressive that, Shawn says, "I had to stand up and make sure that was mine, number 32, and not double zero" -- the digits worn by Arthur, a sophomore with a far more athletic reputation.

Jackson missed just one field goal attempt in the Jayhawks' opener, scoring 21 points in 18 minutes off the bench, from which he had been toiling in various degrees of frustration for his whole career. He scored in double figures two more times, and by the sixth game of the season he had supplanted Kaun in the starting lineup. There he has remained, becoming Kansas's leading rebounder (7.0 per game) and second-leading scorer (at 12.8 points per game) during its 22-1 start.

Wright's decision to enter the NBA Draft as a sophomore last spring (he was taken 13th overall by New Orleans) affected Jackson more than any other Jayhawk. His minutes have jumped from 15.3 per game last season to 24.8, and he evolved from KU's most enigmatic reserve into arguably its most valuable starter. On a balanced title contender stocked with NBA prospects, that breakthrough is no trivial achievement. After the Jayhawks beat Oklahoma on Jan. 14 to improve to 17-0, Jackson, who had 17 points and eight rebounds, called Shawn and said, "Can you really believe this is happening?"

Jackson's teammates have tried to push him past the awed phase: During a timeout late in Kansas's Jan. 23 win over Iowa State, Rush pointed Jackson toward the scoreboard, where there were 21 points and 11 rebounds listed next to his number. "Don't think you aren't good, D-Block," Rush said. "You're a star for us now."

Self knows what made Jackson's late bloom possible. "For the first time [since he's been] at Kansas," the coach says, "he's at peace with himself."

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The nightmares that began haunting him as early as grade school all centered on the same chilling subject. "I always dreamed that I was going to die -- that I would get shot in the head, or that a car I was in would crash into a gas station and I'd burn," says Jackson. He would awaken in a sweat, crying, and he'd go to his grandmother's bedroom.

"She'd say, Put your head on my stomach," Jackson wistfully recalls. "She'd pat it, and tell me I was going to be all right, that God would come and save us all, and my pain would go away."

Evon was the matriarch, Darnell the grandmama's boy; they were best friends. It would have been fitting for Jackson to have a glorious sophomore season -- the first one after the accident -- in her honor. Instead, that season began with a crisis: a nine-game suspension levied by the NCAA for accepting $5,000 in impermissible benefits from a Kansas booster.

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