EVERETT — The happiness, as evidenced by the mile-wide smile on his face, was real, even if Peninsula College sophomore Colby Jackson’s preference would have been playing rather than cheering his teammates on from the bench last season.
Jackson, a two-time state champion basketball player from Clark High School in Las Vegas, transferred to Peninsula and redshirted during the Pirates’ run to the Elite 8 of the NWAC tournament last season in order for the point guard to get a better handle on his academics after playing his freshman season for the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta.
“The smile was really legit,” Jackson confirmed. “I was upset I couldn’t play, but I was happy to know I would have another year left to play basketball.
“School-wise, it helped me a lot to have that time to focus, and it made me better at basketball because I could work out every day.”
Jackson said he struggled in the classroom in Alberta.
“School up there was tough for me academically,” he said. “And I knew the starting 2 guard here, Darrion Daniels, and he told me I should check out PC and come play ball with him.”
Jackson and Daniels, who graduated in 2017, are two members of what has become a basketball pipeline between Sin City and Port Angeles.
This season alone, the Peninsula men, who face Linn-Benton in the semifinals of the NWAC Basketball Championships at 2 p.m. Saturday at Everett Community College, start Las Vegas products Kaelin “Showey” Crane, Cameron Burton and Jackson, while reserve Zach Day comes off the bench.
“We grew up playing AAU basketball together for the Las Vegas Rebels,” Jackson said of his relationship with Daniels.
And the pair was coached at the AAU level by another Las Vegas Pirate, Alfonzo McNeal, who played at Peninsula under coach Peter Stewart in 2006 and 2007.
“We knew about him before the U of A because of Darrion,” Pirates coach Mitch Freeman said.
We got back into contact with him via Darrion and Alfonzo, and he came to Peninula last year and he redshirted his first year… . It was a good year for him, a tough year for him. Every time you are redshirting it’s difficult because you dont get to see fruits of your labor. You work hard in the classroom, in the community and on the court at practice, so it was a challenge for him but it was worth it for him.”
The season off has paid off for Jackson and Peninsula.
Jackson leads the Pirates in scoring (16.8 points per game), assists (5.2) and steals (1.7) and minutes played — a testament to his importance on the court and his dedication to playing for a winner.
“He’s just a sincere guy,” Freeman said. “He’s all about us. He’s all about the Peninsula College Pirates, all about the team..
“We value his leadership, his ability to communicate with teammates and coaches and his competitiveness.
“He’s an integral part of our basketball program. He’s a coach on the floor, he sees plays happen before they actually happen, he feeds his teammates, understands the roles of his guys and what each brings to the floor.”
And Freeman knows this won’t be Jackson’s final season.
“He’s so quick, so fast, he’s a really dynamic point guard that can do a variety of things,” he said. “He can play off the ball, he’s been defending really well lately. He’s going to be successful at the next level.”
Jackson didn’t point to his ability to slash through opposing defenses and find open teammates for shots, or his excellent 3-point shooting (42.7 percent) as his greatest strength on the court. Instead, he pointed to a quality that helped his team win more than 100 games and two state titles in high school and 21 games and an NWAC Final 4 berth this season.
“What I think I do really well is lead a team really well,” Jackson said. “Most point guards know how to score or get it inside into a big man.
“And I’m kind of a sore loser when I lose, so I prefer to get the win and stay happy.”
Burton, another point guard who transferred from Central Washington this season, joined Jackson in the starting backcourt around the midpoint of the season.
Sometimes playing two point guards at the same time can be problematic, but both Jackson and his coach are enjoying the results.
“I think it works really well,” Jackson said. “The first couple of games we had to get the rhythm together, but having two point guards who know how to lead is crucial for us. The Houston Rockets have two starting point guards [Chris Paul and NBA-MVP frontrunner James Harden] and it’s working out for them. “I do consider myself more of the Chris Paul-type player, I like to give the ball up to my teammates.”
Freeman enjoys having two seasoned ballhandlers on the floor together.
“I like having the flexibilty of having two point guards on the floor,” He said. “Each guy can release pressure coming off the ball and they understand how to play the game. And they are two highly competitve guys which I like.”
And Jackson has enjoyed his time on and off the floor this season.
“This season has been a lot of fun outside of basketball,” he said. “We get along really well as a team, and to me that’s the biggest part, because having a good relationship off the floor makes for better performance on it. If you like your guys, there’s more trust that develops, more knowledge of each other and how to make the right play.”