By Charles Hallman
Bobby Jackson this week begins his first season as Minnesota Timberwolves player development coach. He returns to the area where some of his greatest athletic exploits are well-documented.
Jackson starred for two seasons at the University of Minnesota (1995-97), where in his senior year he was named the Big Ten’s top player and helped the Gophers reach the 1997 NCAA national semifinals. From there, the guard became an NBA draft pick and logged a dozen seasons (1997-2009) with six teams, including the Wolves (1998-2000), and was the 2003 NBA Sixth Man during his tenure with Sacramento.
“I think I had a decent career at both levels,” says Jackson humbly.
After retiring as a player, Jackson first became a scout, then an assistant coach at Sacramento for two seasons. But earlier this year, his NBA coaching career came to a temporary halt after new owners decided to clean house and let all the coaches go. “It was a bit of a concern that I wasn’t going to coach this year,” he tells the MSR.
However, Minnesota also underwent some changes around the same time; former coach Flip Saunders returned but this time as minority owner and president of basketball operations.
“It’s all about who you know and how many people you know,” notes Jackson. “I have a good relationship with Rick [Adelman, the Wolves coach]. I’ve known Flip for years. Both of those guys coached me, and they know my work ethic.”
Jackson’s work ethic is legendary — the man was a flat-out player, arguably one of the top 10 Gophers in history. But he quickly admits it wasn’t easy playing for former coach Clem Haskins.
“I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread, but he made me feel every day that I was the worst basketball player ever,” he recalls. “I was a hard-head kid when I was at the U.”
But like the late Philippe Wynne of the Spinners once crooned, Jackson learned, oh did he learn: “[Haskins] taught me a lot of things… I learned a lot just by listening and paying attention.”
Now, years later, the former college and pro player hopes to impart his learning and other experiences to his charges. “I’m not the same guy I was when I played. You grow and you learn,” says Jackson.
“What I know now compared to what I didn’t know back then is huge,” he continues. “I’d probably be one of the greatest players ever if what I now know I’d known back then, because I would know so much about the game.”
But can he replicate his hard-work persona and pass it on the young players he’s now working with? “You won’t get 50 percent from me. I won’t half-ass it. I don’t like talking down to anybody. I like talking to [the players] and giving them a piece of knowledge.
“My challenge here is just [getting] the young guys better — to be the type of guy I was as a player,” says Jackson. If he’s half successful in doing that, the Wolves will be a playoff club this season.
Finally, Jackson says he occasionally checks on his old college coach. “We keep in contact, but not as much as we should,” he admits. “I always check up on him and his wife back in Kentucky. He congratulated me on getting the [Wolves] job.
“I’m excited for this new adventure in my life,” concludes Jackson. “I’m just willing to learn and get better [as a coach], get wins and get back to the playoffs. That’s what motivates me — working hard and helping the guys to get better on the basketball court.”
Read about the Wolves’ new concession items in “Sports Odds and Ends — Extra” on the MSR website.
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