Memphis basketball: Tigers' king on the court is no regular Joe

Freshman point guard has ruled games lately after losing command
2011-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:15:53Z Memphis basketball: Tigers' king on the court is no regular JoePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 16, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Memphis doesn't need another king.

Of course, there's Elvis Presley.

Martin Luther King Jr. gave his, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," speech there one day before his death.

Even pro wrestling claims one: Jerry "The King" Lawler, who was born in and still lives in the Bluff City.

So when a 10th-grader gets the phrase, "King of Memphis," tattooed on him - across his chest, no less - there's bound to be some eyes rolling.

Before the nickname became permanent, buzzed on his skin in ink, it was bestowed on Joe Jackson, now the Memphis Tigers starting point guard, by his high school friends.

"They were saying, 'You could be the king of Memphis,' " said the freshman Jackson, whose Tigers will play the Arizona Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday. "I took heed to it.

"I wouldn't say I was better than everybody, the king part of it.

"When you retire from the game, you have royalty."

The Memphis native hasn't necessarily lived up to the hype in every game this season - who could? - but instead, saved his best game for his most recent.

In Saturday's Conference USA tournament championship matchup, Jackson made two free throws with seven seconds left to give the Tigers their first, and only, lead of the game. Eight of his 17 points came during a furious comeback with six minutes left.

Jackson averaged about 19 points and about 25 minutes in three games in the tournament and was named its MVP.

"Joe Jackson was terrific in their conference tournament, probably the biggest reason they advanced to the NCAA tournament," UA coach Sean Miller said. "He is outstanding, playing heavy minutes."

That wasn't always the case.

The 6-foot, 175-pounder played six minutes on Feb. 5 at Gonzaga, then averaged 15 in the next three games.

He fouled out in 18 minutes on Feb. 19 against Rice. A week later, he fouled out in 14, then was limited to nine minutes the game after that.

It was easy to surmise that, just maybe, the pressure was getting to Jackson. Coach Josh Pastner said then that Jackson had to be supported or left alone, implying that he had too many outside influences in his ear. Jackson closed his Facebook page.

Expectations had been high since before he enrolled at Memphis.

A McDonald's All-American, Jackson was Memphis' best homegrown prospect in a generation. At White Station High School, he totaled 3,451 points, fourth highest in Tennessee.

When he committed to the Tigers, Jackson became the face of the program's resurgence after coach John Calipari left for Kentucky.

"Once you've got a player that a lot of people look up to, they're going to ride him," Jackson said. "I played really well in the conference tournament.

"I appreciate all the love and support from Memphis."

Jackson's college highlights are starting to catch up to the billing. Two games ago, he scored a career-high 24. And then there were the free throws to tie, and then lead, UTEP with seven seconds left.

"Being down, and then Joe Jackson having to make those two free throws at the end, in that environment, that's big time," Pastner said. "That will never be taken away."

His biggest stage awaits.

Jackson, who has spent time with former UA guard Jerryd Bayless and a mutual friend, said his team has "to do everything a championship team does every possession" against the Wildcats.

The Tigers must expend "every ounce of sweat and blood," Jackson said.

The King is ready for his court.

"I've got to do what Coach has been preaching the whole season: be a leader," he said. "If it takes me breaking my leg, so be it."

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