James Jackson probably won't be able to attend the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association's annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony on May 12 at the Hawthorne Race Track in Cicero.
He lives in Australia.
A 1974 graduate of Crane, Jackson is one of 13 former players who will be inducted in the Hall of Fame class of 2012. Others include King's Efrem Winters and Laurent Crawford, Vocational's Allen Hunt, South Shore's Bobby Joor, Carver's Ken Maxey, Hubbard's Reggie Rose and Kenwood's Donnie Von Moore.
Other inductees include coaches Mike Oliver of Curie and John Costello of Bowen, Washington's Dejeanette Flournoy, Leslie Hill and Angelina Williams, Fenger's Shujuana Shannon, Whitney Young's Cindy Connor and two boys teams, Crane 1972 and South Shore 1947.
Jackson grew up at 14th and Throop, known as "the village." From an early age, he played basketball with his brothers Thomas and Melvin. He idolized his brothers, Larry Foster and Jerome Freeman, another future Crane star. At Medill elementary school, he knew he had a gift for the game.
Crane coach Dan Davis recruited Jackson out of Medill. He spoke to Jackson's mother and promised her that her son would graduate from high school. Mount Carmel tried to lure Jackson but he never wavered in his decision to attend Crane. His older brothers went there and he was enthralled by stories of the great players who came from Crane.
He got off to a shaky start. As a sophomore, when Nate Williams led Crane to the Elite Eight and a trip to Champaign, he was unable to play because he suffered a chipped bone in his knee. He had to sit on the bench and watch all the games.
Jackson started a few games as a freshman and was paired with playground legend Arthur Sivels, who dropped out of school after his freshman year. "As a player, he was one of the best I ever played with. He passed the ball, scored and dribbled. He could have been NBA material," James said.
As a junior and senior, Jackson developed into one of the best players in the Public League. He played against Rickey Green, Bo Ellis, Sonny Parker, Billy Lewis, Andre Wakefield and Maurice Cheeks.
As his reputation grew, college coaches began to take notice. Gene Bartow, who coached at Memphis State, Illinois and UCLA, recruited Jackson as a junior (for Memphis) and a senior (for Illinois). He had several offers from Big 10 and ACC schools. He also was approached by Jerry Tarkanian of Nevada-Las Vegas.
But he ended up at Minnesota. "Jimmy Williams, the assistant coach, showed a lot of interest in me. It was a Big 10 school and I always wanted to play in the Big 10," he said.
He signed with Minnesota but left when the Gophers were placed on probation by the NCAA and transferred to Boston College. But he wasn't happy on the East Coast and returned to Minnesota. "I should have gone to Nevada-Las Vegas," he said in retrospect.
In 1979, he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls but wasn't in good physical condition and didn't perform well in training camp. He played with the Alberta Dusters of the Continental Basketball Association. After one year, he returned to Minneapolis. Then he got a call to go to Australia.
"I got a call from Dick Rymer, an American coach who had been living in Australia for a number of years," James recalled. "He ran into one of my assistant coaches at Minnesota, Jesse Evans, in an airport and the spoke about me. That's how it all came about."
From 1982 to 1991, Jackson played with several clubs in Queensland and Western Australia. He conducted basketball clinics in some of the most remote towns in the outback of Western Australia for the Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Department of Western Australia. He also has worked in retail and owned his own sporting goods store.
He married Romana in 1992. In 2000, when their son Jamal was 5 years old, he reconnected with basketball. He has coached and been involved with clubs in Western Australia and Queensland ever since. They live on the Gold Coast.
For the past seven years, he has worked for a traffic control company and has served as an assistant coach on his son's Under 18 team in the Premier League.
He still marvels at how a young kid from the West Side of Chicago could end up on the Gold Coast of Australia, all because he had an extraordinary ability to play the game of basketball.
"I had never heard of Australia. 'Where is that?' I said," Jackson recalled. "How many times do you get a round-trip ticket to another country? I'm still there today. It blew me away...laidback lifestyle, friendly people, nobody in a rush about anything, great climate, nice place to bring up a family, totally different than the United States.
"Life has been pretty good for me. I have no regret that I didn't make it in the NBA. I believe in fate. I ended up in Australia. My wife is Australian. The normal temperature in Brisbane is 70 degrees. I never see snow. People think I'm crazy when I say I appreciate snow."