Even when LSU loses, it's clear that showtime has returned to Baton Rouge. After Jackson scored 27 points but fouled out with nine minutes left in Illinois's 127-100 rout of the Tigers on Dec. 22, Illini guard Kendall Gill called CJ "the best guard I've ever played against."
Georgia coach Hugh Durham compares Jackson's impact on the sport with the impact Herschel Walker had on college football as a freshman. More poignantly, an eight-year-old girl recently called a New Orleans hotline to say she was running away from home to go visit Jackson "because he makes me so happy." The counselor who took the call told the girl that if she returned home CJ would win a game for her. The next game Jackson did just that, beating Vanderbilt with a last-second rainbow from 18 feet.
Comparisons with LSU's beloved gunner, the late Pete Maravich, have also accompanied Jackson's ascension. But with his bountiful, bewildering fakes, his sudden leaps and his lightning-quick release, CJ is more reminiscent of one of Pistol's contemporaries, the quicksilver 5'9" Calvin Murphy, who played at Niagara and went on to an illustrious 13-year career in the NBA. Like Murphy, Jackson is an extraordinary leaper—he has a 39-inch vertical leap, an LSU record. But Jackson is a better passer and defender than Murphy was. He's also taller, though not by much. Jackson says he is 6'1", but according to Blanton, a fifth-year senior and the Tigers' workaholic captain, "Barefoot, I'd be surprised if Chris is six feet."
At week"s end Jackson was the nation's third-leading scorer with a 28.2 point average; only Fly Williams, who scored 29.4 per game for Austin Peay in 1972-73 and Harry Kelly, who had a 29.0 average at Texas Southern in 1979-80, have surpassed that average as freshmen. Jackson's huge numbers are nearly as impressive as his humility and the eagerness with which he strives for perfection. He answers elders with "yes, sir" and "no, sir." He is also deeply religious. "When I even think something wrong or bad," says Jackson, "I'll say a prayer for forgiveness right away."
The morning after he missed 14 of 23 shots at Kentucky, Jackson woke up an LSU student manager back in Baton Rouge to get a key to the gym. CJ says he shot and shot "until I got it right."
"This kid has taught me about life," says Brown, a man no one ever imagined could be outevangelized by one of his own players. "As great a player as Chris is, he's a better person."
Jackson's remarkable debut season is all the more special because of two hardships he battles daily: a semiestrangement from his mother, Jacqueline, who's a VA hospital attendant in Biloxi, Miss.; and a bizarre neurochemical disorder known as Tourette syndrome, which usually manifests itself in uncontrollable moans, arm-and hand-flapping and spasmodic twitching and blinking. The affliction is identical to the one that disrupted Kansas City Royals designated hitter Jim Eisenreich's career before the disorder was properly diagnosed and treated.
Jackson grew up four blocks from the beach in Gulfport, Miss.—"I really miss it," he says—as the second of Jacqueline's three sons, each of whom has a different father. Jackson does not know his. CJ used to play basketball from dawn to dusk, shooting alone for hours. "I had the ball five seconds...four...three..." says Jackson. "If I missed, I'd go back to one second left. I'd always pretend I had the quickest defensive man in the world on me to see how fast I could get the shot off."
At Gulfport High, where he was a two-time Mississippi Player of the Year, Jackson made 283 foul shots in a row (he has converted 82% of his free throws at LSU). Gulfport coach Bert Jenkins's practice policy of having his players shoot until they missed went out the window because Jackson was so accurate. Otherwise, the Admirals would never have had time to scrimmage.
The split between CJ and his mother occurred when Jackson, who had become close with LSU assistant coach Craig Carse, announced early in his senior year that he intended to go to LSU. "My mom said, 'No, Chris, you only think you want to go to LSU,' " says Jackson. "That's when I knew somebody else had gotten to her."