Jackson Battles Injuries, Develops Into Team Leader

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By Haley Hirai

In September 2008, Nia Jackson spent six excruciating days in Italy. As she went for a power layup on the fourth day of the Oregon women's basketball team's 10-day international tour, she tore her ACL.

"Before that year I had slightly torn my ACL. I knew I tore it exactly seconds after it happened," said Jackson. "After surgery I was in a lot of pain."

After five weeks on crutches and almost a year of rehab, Jackson made a triumphant comeback to the court. During the 2009-2010 season, she became a team leader, started all 34 games at point guard, and was named Oregon's Best Defensive Player.

"Nia is a changed player. She's made a gigantic step forward," said Oregon head coach Paul Westhead. "It was a long process and a real struggle. She was in pain during drills. She was uncomfortable. Nia has become a leader in many ways. By her very position of point guard she is a leader, and in addition to that she's earned the respect of her teammates."

Jackson describes the team as a "sisterhood" and Westhead has noticed that this team is even more unified than teams in the past. It is not unusual for teammates to stop by each other's houses, go shopping, or catch a movie together.

"We're such a caring team. We all just get along and everybody has somebody on the team that they're really close with," Jackson said.

Jackson's favorite aspect of basketball is being part of that team.

"I love being able to go out and express myself while being part of the team, contributing, and helping my teammates," she said.

During drills, Westhead occasionally yells out "Bango!", as a way of triggering high velocity during the fast break.

"It's one of my favorite sayings of his because it's so unusual and random. When he first came here, people had to keep explaining what he meant," said Jackson with a laugh.

Jackson's bright basketball career started in part because of her older brother Nathan. While Nia ran track starting at age six all the way through high school, Nathan played basketball.

"I've always wanted to be like him. We're five years apart and I've always looked up to him. He trained me," said Jackson.

Nathan went on to play two years of college basketball for Central Washington University, and Nia is now helping to shape the future of the Oregon women's basketball program.

"On the court, Nia is a very focused and hard-working point guard. She is very, very talented with almost super-speed," said Westhead. "Her speed is incredible. She just blows by people. Off the court, she is very kind, outgoing and friendly."

As a sociology major, Jackson hopes to continue her education and earn a masters degree in sports psychology or another counseling field.

"I want to impact athletes' lives one day," she said.

While she speaks of impacting athletes in the future, it's clear that through her example of unshakable persistence and determination, she's making an impact today.

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