Professional sports can be a cutthroat, bottom-line business, and then there's the story of Tory Jackson's second chance.
Jackson is a rookie, a year late, with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. You might remember him as a quick, feisty guard at the University of Notre Dame. He was in camp a year ago with the Mad Ants, after looks from the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.
But the night of last year's “Meet the Team” party, Jackson told the Ants that he felt he had to leave for home. His mother, Sarah, had passed away in September 2010, producing lingering stress and other issues. Jackson felt he needed to clear his head and get his life in order.
“My mom always kept me level-headed and kept church in my life, and I kind of lost myself,” Jackson said. “I had to take time out to get my things in order, even if basketball wasn't there. I'm a very religious person and God is very key in my life. I needed to find myself again, get right with church and get my priorities straight.”
Jackson refocused and worked out in a variety of settings over the last year. The Mad Ants held onto his D-League rights and when 2011 rolled around, the team offered to bring him back to camp.
“It's a blessed situation to be in,” Jackson said. “I'm fortunate for them to invite me back after what happened last year. I'm just thankful. It shows what kind of organization they are. …For them to invite me back to prove myself, I thank them for that.”
Jackson, who starts the season as backup to veteran point guard Walker Russell Jr., is on his first road trip with the team. The Ants (1-0) play at Springfield (1-0) at 7 p.m. Friday, then travel on to Maine on Sunday and Canton next Wednesday.
Mad Ants president Jeff Potter says the team wanted to bring Jackson back primarily because of his potential as a player. The Ants held no grudge for him bolting a year ago.
“Life happens and people go through tough times,” Potter said. “He's shown he's a different player than last year. Last year, he was real quiet. This year, he's really into it, he's exuberant and he has a great attitude. We lucked out. We've got two starter-level point guards on the team.”
Jackson was an almost immediate starter at Notre Dame where he set the table for Luke Harangody and, earlier in his career, former Mad Ants forward Rob Kurz. Jackson averaged nearly five assists per game over his college career and was also known as a terrific defender at the point.
Mad Ants coach Joey Meyer loves Jackson's toughness.
“Tory's real solid,” Meyer said. “He'll be a real good backup to Walk, and if anything happens to Walk, I'm real confident in handing Tory the ball and say, ‘Go run our show.' The young man's very good.”
Jackson is still learning the pro game, but the attributes that served him well in college should translate.
He's small (5-foot-11 and a muscular 180 pounds) but that's something he's deal with his entire career.
“I think I have a lot of leadership skills, especially at the point guard position,” Jackson said. “I feel I can get to the ball to guys in the right position and I feel I can break down a defense with dribble penetration.”
As for defending, he's more than confident.
“I pride myself on defense,” Jackson said. “I'm not a Ron Artest back in the '90s, but I try to pride myself on being a great defender.”
The immediate differences in the pro game are the speed of the game and the subsequent need for quicker decision making.
Jackson said he's been soaking in Russell's experience for tips.
“Walk's a great leader in the way he goes out and handles himself like a pro,” Jackson said. “I try to pick up every little thing I can. He does it the right way.”
Potter says he feels comfortable Jackson would be able to step in and take over as the starting point guard if Russell were called up to the NBA or left for an overseas offer.
“I thank God they gave me another chance,” Jackson said. “I'm thankful to be one of the few who have an opportunity. A lot of guys are out there still trying to get a chance to prove what they can do.”
Jackson's chance is now. A year late, but worth the wait.