Joe Davidson

Grant High graduate Charles Jackson grows from obscurity into an NBA prospect

Charles Jackson
Charles Jackson

Charles Jackson was in virtual heaven. He studied his surroundings, ran his massive hands across the front of his practice jersey, ducked into the back room to collect his backpack and returned to look around some more. He’s here, of all places: The Kings’ practice facility last Friday afternoon for a pre-draft workout, just outside Sleep Train Arena, a place he fantasized about playing in while growing up.

Jackson is the ultimate late bloomer, rising from obscurity as a 6-foot-4 undersize center at Grant High School to navigating his way to small community college outposts in Susanville and Twin Falls, Idaho, before finally landing at Division I Tennessee Tech, located between Nashville and Knoxville.

His next destination is again the unknown, and Jackson is stimulated by the journey.

“Blessed, proud, excited,” said the grinning center, now 6-10 and a slender 235 pounds.

Jackson worked out with the Lakers last Thursday in Los Angeles, so consumed with rebounding drills that he hardly noticed Kobe Bryant stroll into the facility. On Friday, Jackson was put through a series of drills with other prospects, all under the watchful eye of his favorite player, Vlade Divac, now the Kings’ vice president of basketball and franchise operations.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh man, that’s the legend right there,’” Jackson said, adding later, “Talk about fun. Vlade of all people here with me.”

Divac’s message to the draft prospects hoping to receive a summer-league camp invite was simple: Attitude. The one aspect Jackson can control is effort.

“Vlade said to go hard all the time, to give it your all, don’t hold back,” Jackson said.

Said Divac, “There’s always a need for a big man in this sport.”

Jackson always wanted to be a big man, roaming the paint, doing the dirty work. The only problem was, it took a while for his body to catch up to his ambition. Jackson was 6-foot early in his prep career and grew four inches by his senior season in 2011-12, when he averaged 10 points. Having stretched to 6-6, Jackson in 2012 wound up at Lassen College, where he averaged 12.2 points and 11.4 rebounds.

At College of Southern Idaho, a community college in Twin Falls, a broken leg limited Jackson to 16 games. He averaged 5.8 points and 5.6 rebounds for a 27-5 team. And he was still growing, in game and in body. At Tennessee Tech this past season, Jackson, now 6-10, was named the Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year after averaging 13 points and 9.4 rebounds. He had 18 double-doubles, enough to convince him he was ready for the pro game, be it the NBA or overseas. There’s money to be made in this sport, somewhere.

“I’m only five classes short of graduating, and I’ll get it done,” Jackson said. “I just feel the time is now to do this.”

Jackson said he gained his work ethic from his father, Charles, a retired construction worker. The elder Jackson was forced out of that line of work due to a crushed vertebra.

“My dad is the ultimate go-getter, always worked so hard,” Jackson said. “I try to make my parents proud and to be a role model for my younger siblings. I have five sisters and a brother. They look up to me.”

They do, literally.

“I kept growing in college, and that was the biggest blessing,” Jackson said. “I grew so much that there were days my knees and shins hurt. I grew out of clothes. I burned holes in my pockets, I was shopping for clothes so often. But I’m done growing. It finally stopped.”

Jackson was referred to noted Sacramento strength and conditioning coach Guss Armstead, father of 49ers first-round draft pick Arik Armstead. The elder Armstead knows basketball players, regularly working out local NBA players Ryan Anderson and Matt Barnes, but this prospect’s name caught him by surprise.

“I’ve been here all these years, and I didn’t have any idea who Charles Jackson was,” Armstead said. “I checked him out and saw that there’s a lot of potential. I mean, a lot of potential. Everyone’s intrigued with him.

“He’s a big-time defender. He has great instincts with his hands, poking the ball away, blocking shots. With his frame, he can add pounds and get up to 250.”

Armstead said he’s impressed with Jackson’s desire and effort.

“He has a great attitude and works really hard,” Armstead said. “If you’re going to be a 10th, 11th, 12th guy on an NBA roster, you better have that or they won’t keep you around. ... Charles may play this game for a long time.”

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