There couldn't have been a worse weekend for a recruiting trip. Tracy Jackson, then a senior at Paint Branch High School, still remembers it being gray, damp and nasty--a typical November weekend in the Midwest. He was in Indiana to visit the University of Notre Dame.
"But as bad as the weather was," Jackson recalled recently, "something stood out. Part of it was being a kid in high school, out on the road and on your own, beginning to be a man, trying to make your first major decision, like where to go to college."
Even though his final decision still was several months away, Jackson had pretty much made up his mind that he would attend Notre Dame and play basketball for Coach Digger Phelps. "I had mixed feelings about becoming 'Irish,' " Jackson said. "But throughout high school, I had seen the golden helmets on television. It was intriguing and exciting."
It was the beginning of a senior year that would end one of the best high school basketball careers ever in the Washington area, a senior year that propelled Tracy Jackson to all-America status at Notre Dame. From there, he went to the National Basketball Association, where he just finished his rookie season in Chicago.
Jackson can remember it all vividly. He remembers the fun of winning the Maryland state championship as a senior in 1977.
He remembers playing center at 6-foot-5, and scoring 43 points in the last regular season game, against Mackin.
He remembers how lucky he was to realize, as an adolescent, that he didn't have a lot of decisions to make; how high school was so "worry free" that he could concentrate all his time on books and basketball.Jackson's most riveting memories are those of being recruited his junior and senior years. Not just recruited, but hounded and sought after by almost any school with a decent basketball program. He was one of the most-wanted players in the nation five years ago.
"There were no illegal inducements and almost everybody treated me fairly," Jackson said. "But I got so many phone calls, my mom was going to change our phone number. I usually got between four and five calls per day.
"It got to be pretty funny because I'd get my brother and sister to answer the phone a lot of the time. My sister would quiz the recruiter. 'What kind of program are you running? What are you doing calling Tracy this time of day?' She could get pretty rough on some of them."
Jackson said no thanks to North Carolina and considered only Duke, Indiana and Notre Dame. Bobby Knight's sales pitch at Indiana was firm.
"Bobby Knight had come to a practice at Paint Branch once," Jackson recalled, "and everybody was so excited by his being there we just kept dunking the ball. And when I went out to Indiana, he said, 'If you come here, you will get your degree. And you will be a pro ballplayer. I'll make you one.'
"I still don't know if he had pinpointed me or if he told everybody that," Jackson said. "But it certainly raised my confidence level."
Jackson was so impressed by Notre Dame that his decision-making process--with help from his mother and high school coach Hank Galotta--wasn't especially agonizing.
In choosing to become "Irish," Jackson may have disappointed many people who wanted him to attend Maryland.
"In high school, I had always wanted to play for Maryland," Jackson said. "(Coach) Lefty Driesell went to my church. We're still friends.
"Whenever we played Maryland, I tried to have exceptional games." He succeeded. His freshman year at Notre Dame, Jackson was the most valuable player in a Notre Dame victory over Maryland. Two years later, Jackson made a game-winning shot to beat the Terrapins.
Jackson has become more outgoing than he was in those high school days.
He was the guest speaker at Paint Branch's recent graduation and will speak to a lot more high school youths this summer, at basketball camps. "I tell them that everybody's not cut out to play basketball," Jackson said. "It's reality. I know it's been said over and over again. But now I can see it. I've always loved basketball. But I feel I'm more cut out for something else."