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Can't Hold This Tiger
Curry Kirkpatrick
February 20, 1989
Chris Jackson of LSU is having the best season of any first-year guard in history
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February 20, 1989

Can't Hold This Tiger

Chris Jackson of LSU is having the best season of any first-year guard in history

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Who's responsible for that basketball legend in the making at LSU? Could it be coach Dale Brown, who is most dangerous when backed against a wall? Could it be those no-names, retreads and walk-ons who were considered too young, too short and too Proposition-48ed out to compete successfully in the SEC, much less lead the conference with two thirds of the season gone?

In truth, the fairy tale unfolding down in woozy Looziana is mainly about a blocky little freshman guard named Chris Jackson, who is putting together the finest season of any rookie backcourtman ever. In the process he has lifted a woebegone team to his spectacular level. At week's end the Tigers were 17-6 overall and 9-3 in the SEC.

Forget for a moment Jackson's 48 points in his third varsity game, a 111-109 overtime loss to Louisiana Tech. Forget his already mythic NCAA freshman-record 53 points in his fifth game, a 111-101 victory at Florida. Put aside the memories of his scoring 15 of LSU's last 17 points at Maryland or every one of the Tigers' final 16 at Kentucky. Or even his incredible 50 points last Saturday against Tennessee in a crucial SEC game that put the Tigers one game ahead in the conference.

Discard all that and focus on the Louisiana Superdome three Saturdays ago. As a crowd of 54,321, the largest ever to see a regular-season college game, looked on in amazement, powerful Georgetown, with its own standout freshman, 6'10" center Alonzo Mourning, threw everything at Jackson but John Thompson's towel and walk-out shoes. Still, the LSU kid with the fancy moves scored 26 points as the Tigers beat the Hoyas 82-80.

"I never knew which way Chris was going," said Mourning. "He puts you in a triple-threat position. You don't know whether he's pulling up to shoot or to pass, or whether he'll keep driving inside or what. Then, which side? Where? He's everywhere. Give him one step and it's over. And I think he's the best shooter in the country."

With 20 seconds remaining and the score tied 80—all, three defenders surrounded Jackson when he got the ball. Somehow he wriggled free and passed to guard Russell Grant, whose shot was deflected by Mourning. Tiger forward Wayne Sims tipped the loose ball to forward Ricky Blanton, who put in the winning layup. "I wanted Chris to take the last shot, but I didn't tell him he'd get gang guarded," said Brown. "I knew he'd get out of that trap, though. They locked up Houdini, and he got out, didn't he? Chris dances. He skates. Gee, he evaporates. It's like Shazam! "

"What explosion," said Georgetown's Dwayne Bryant, shaking his head after the game. "Jackson lulls you to sleep by drifting around with the ball. Then he explodes. He's the next great college player." The next?

Another Hoya, Charles Smith, who played point guard on the U.S. Olympic team, was not so magnanimous. "Jackson? He's a real player, that's all," said Smith. "Hey, I'm a senior; he's a freshman. Go ask him about me. I'm tired of answering questions about Chris Jackson." Better get used to it, fella.

With most of LSU's luminous 1988 recruiting class—including 6'11" Stanley Roberts, 6'8" Harold Boudreaux and 6-foot Maurice Williamson—ineligible this season because of Prop 48. Brown has turned Jackson loose. The Tigers have spread the floor, run like crazy and taken full advantage of his open-court skills. Had the other frosh been available. Brown might have been tempted to play a more controlled—and perhaps less successful—game.

Brown speaks of Jackson's "magnificent feel" for the game and admits he was "overcoaching" CJ until midway through the Florida game. At that point Brown sat back and flicked his wrist, signaling Jackson to keep shooting. After Jackson spent a couple of minutes passing off, Brown called timeout to order him to fire away. "I want to get everyone involved," says Jackson. "I feel funny taking so many shots." Jackson's brief shooting hiatus cost him a possible 70-point night.

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