Missouri's Willie Jackson, left, announced his intentions to transfer in December after his first semester at Missouri. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Willie Jackson has long been on the radar of University of Toledo men’s basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk.
Kowalczyk and his staff recruited the 6-foot-6 Cleveland Garfield Heights product when he was in eighth grade.
But UT’s recruiting slowed as Jackson progressed through high school, and the high-major programs became involved in his recruitment.
Jackson, who eventually landed at Missouri, announced his intentions to transfer in December after his first semester with the Tigers.
When given a second chance to secure Jackson, the Rockets moved quickly and the talented freshman chose Toledo over the likes of Kent State, Akron, and Cleveland State.
“Willie, for us, is a guy that we feel is an impact player and a game-changer,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s unbelievably athletic, he is skilled, but the best part about him is the energy he brings, the toughness he brings, and the character he brings. We’re really excited to have him.”
Jackson, who wanted to return closer to home because of a family medical issue, said Toledo stood out because of the family atmosphere.
“The coaching staff and the players were big factors,” Jackson said. “They have my major, which is criminal justice. I just felt like I was doing high school all over again. It was another family environment that I can grow and get better in.”
In 11 games as a freshman at Missouri, Jackson averaged 5.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in averaging 16.9 minutes per game. He had 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his first college game against Alabama A&M.
“He’s a guy that I think can play multiple positions,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s a perimeter player.
“He handles the ball really well and makes good decisions. I’d like to see him be a little more consistent as a shooter, but we’re looking at him as a perimeter guy and a wing player. Probably at the 3, and maybe even some at the 2. He’s a guy that we're ecstatic to have.”
Jackson was at a Toledo practice for the first time Thursday, and said he is approaching each day as a chance to improve his game and get ready for next season when he is eligible to play. Jackson can play after the first semester of next season, and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
“I’m working out every day and getting ready to come back and produce next season,” Jackson said.
“I’m going to take a lot of jumpers, a lot of ball-handling, and just watching film and learning and fixing my mistakes and then getting ready to produce.”
Kowalczyk said the Toledo staff has a great relationship with Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson. Marreon Jackson, another Garfield Heights player, will come to Toledo next season as a freshman.
“I think that’s going to be a lot of fun, playing with my old point guard,” Willie Jackson said.
Jackson averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds as a senior in high school, and was named first-team Division I All-Ohio by the Associated Press.
Jackson will join Colorado transfer Tre’Shaun Fletcher on the scout team in practice, something Kowalczyk said will only help the team this season.
“We have one heck of a scout team right now,” Kowalczyk said. “You’ve got Tre’Shaun Fletcher, you’ve got [Jackson], you have James Gordon, who is redshirting, you have DeAndre Haynes as an assistant coach, and Matt Schaffer, who is a great walk-on.”
Jackson said he takes pride in being an all-around player who can handle the ball, be a threat in the post, and guard on defense.
Kowalczyk hopes to heighten that all-around ability by using Jackson at different positions and in different situations in practice.
“We always use this year off to try to enhance their skill level,” Kowalczyk said.
“I’m going to play him at multiple positions. Today I played him at the point guard position. Tomorrow he might play a different position. Him and Tre’Shaun, I want them to be the best players on the opposition regardless of position, so they can work on their ball-handling skills, decision-making skills, post skills, shooting skills, whatever. I’m a firm believer in putting those guys in different positions in their redshirt year.”
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