Trevis Jackson is slight and wiry, maybe 5-foot-11 in sneakers, and perhaps 171 pounds if he tucks a few rocks into his socks.
“The big thing is, I don’t pass the eye test,” the Sacramento State guard acknowledges with a grin, “and I definitely didn’t pass the eye test in high school.”
But guess what? Jackson, whose midseason ascension coincides with the Hornets’ improving record and midpack Big Sky Conference men’s basketball standing, aces all the other exams. A former combo player at Santa Monica High – starting guard, student body president, exceptional student – he is an academic whiz within weeks of earning a degree and, most impressively, is someone who regards life as an obstacle course to be attacked and conquered, preferably with a sense of humor.
Sometimes, the joke is on him. Other times, he delivers the punchline. After he turned down academic scholarships to Cornell and UCLA, among others, Jackson’s father, Trenton, took him to Sac State for a visit with his former coach at Delta College, Brian Katz.
Katz took a quick look at Trevis and delivered the bad news: “I said, ‘Here’s the deal. I’ll bring you in as a walk-on, but you are never going to get a scholarship. There is no way.’ He weighed what, 145 pounds? But here’s where I was dead wrong. By the end of his sophomore year, he earned a scholarship. He worked hard, never complained, and got better. I felt so good telling him about the scholarship … I mean, I love that kid. I remember when he was born!”
Trevis’ grand entrance offered the first hint of an unusual and eventful life. While Katz’s Delta College team was on a road trip, Trenton’s girlfriend, Carmel Roberts, went into labor during an English class at Hiram Johnson High School. Her sister rushed her to Sutter Memorial Hospital but arrived seconds too late. Trevis was born on the front seat of the car, aided by paramedics alerted by screeching brakes outside the emergency room doors.
“I call Trevis my miracle child,” Carmel said. “He has always been a joy, even when things were tough. Trenton and I were too young to have a baby and get married, and things didn’t work out. (Trenton) went off to college (Asuza Pacific) and I relied on my family here while I earned my AA degree and got a job. Trevis lived with his dad in L.A. for a few years because I thought that was important. Boys need their fathers. But that was hard, too, because we are very close.”
A few years after the divorce, Carmel met and married an air traffic controller from Mather Field. Trevis fell hard, too, adoring his stepfather and, soon, two new little half-sisters. Tragically, while his mother was pregnant with a boy, Tatum, his stepfather died from a pulmonary embolism during a family vacation in Lake Havasu.
Trevis, 21, refers to those months as the “worst of times,” his sense of security shattered again. He returned to Sacramento to help with the household chores and comfort his mother. Before taking the bus to middle school, he would pack diaper bags, fix lunches, tidy up. Friends and relatives helped with child care so Carmel could continue to work, and it seemed to Trevis at the time, all of his aunts, uncles and grandparent made sure he participated in sports and after-school activities.
The arrangement wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t terrible. He still had his books and his basketball and “a village” to raise him. And when Carmel met a fast-talking, wickedly funny actor/comedian named Tony Roberts, Trevis felt like he hit a game-winner. Roberts, who was born in Detroit but was living in L.A., seduced and embraced the entire Sacramento-based Filipino family.
“When Tony came into our lives,” Trevis said softly, “it was like a light just shined on my family. He took us out of this darkness. We were functioning but things were tough. People were dropping food off at the house. But then here comes Tony, and he is not like anyone you know. Everybody loves him. You might think that living with a comedian, he needs a break once in while. Not Tony. He is always cracking jokes. When he isn’t on the road and you see him at my games, he’ll be out there dancing with the mascots. He does an imitation of coach Katz that is hilarious.”
But Roberts provided much more than comic relief. He adopted Carmel’s three young children and quietly worked to gain the trust of Trevis, who had returned to Santa Monica to live with his father and attend high school. While Trenton nurtured his son’s basketball skills and academic dreams, Roberts told jokes, kept things loose, awaited his opportunities.
“Trevis was in a position to reject me,” said Roberts, who has appeared on HBO “Def Comedy Jam,” BET “ComicView,” “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” and who performs standup worldwide. “So I made it my business just to be myself. I’ll be there for him. And it was meant to be. Sometimes, I look around and I’m amazed. I have grown kids of my own. I’m black, Carmel is Filipino, and we have large, extended families. On holidays, we’re like the Waltons.”
At Hornets games at the Nest, Trevis cracks, “they’re just loud.”
They are also delighted by his increasing playing time and the team’s overall progress. In the five games before Thursday night, Jackson, a left-hander, averaged 22.2 minutes, 4.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He contributed a career-best 10 points in Saturday’s overtime win against Portland State – admittedly modest numbers – but recognizes his value as a facilitator and floor leader, as someone who “sets my teammates up for big scoring games and for the interviews afterward.”
His immediate goals are to finish his Hornets career on an upward arc, complete his nine remaining credits, then pursue a professional career in the Philippine Basketball Association. He wants to see the world – and meet more of his relatives. No need to stop counting now.