CCS Freshman of the Year
RAY JOHN JACKSON, SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL
It took a while for his “welcome to the varsity” moment to come, but when Sacred Heart Cathedral freshman guard Ray John Jackson found his place with the Fightin’ Irish, his impact was unmistakable.
After being shown the ropes during a grueling regular season in which SHC went just 3-11 in WCAL play, Jackson stepped up his game in the postseason to help lead his team to an improbable CCS Open Division Championship and a win in the first round of the CIF Division I Tournament, in which he scored the go-ahead basket to beat Bullard in overtime and ensure a happy trip back from Fresno for his team.
“He had some maturing to do and definitely put it together at the right time,” head coach Sean MacKay said.
Players that struggle against the rigors of the WCAL in their first few tests usually take a while to acclimate and develop, but Jackson managed to evolve faster than most of his peers, many of whom were still playing on freshman teams. If not for his 12 points and three steals in a shocking CCS quarterfinal upset of Mitty, there would be no championship to speak of on Ellis Street.
A natural athlete who also plays quarterback and defensive back in the SHC football program, Jackson showcased his ability to learn on the fly after getting pulled up to the varsity roster midway through December. Facing aggressive defenses like Branson in the Damian Lillard Classic and dealing with the likes of Riordan and Serra in the WCAL, his first two months of varsity basketball were full of obstacles. At one point, his squad lost eight of nine games, including a 28-point home defeat to Mitty and a 44-point beatdown at Riordan.
Things started to click at the end of the regular season for SHC, and after averaging just four points per game in his first two months, he doubled his production in the postseason while averaging three rebounds and two steals per game as well. Perhaps the biggest testament to his growth and development was his final game of the year, a five-point loss to the same Branson team that had hounded him with pressure during a 53-35 defeat in December.
Now that he’s managed to adjust to the pressure and rigors of varsity basketball within a program that plays both a killer nonleague schedule (December featured games against Southern California powers Harvard-Westlake and St. Augustine) and competes in the gauntlet that is the WCAL, Jackson is well ahead of most area freshmen in both the mental and physical sides of the game.
“I enjoyed watching his growth as a basketball player,” head football coach Barry McLaughlin said. “We’re looking forward to his development on the football field as well!”
While starring in two different sports can be a challenge, especially as just a sophomore on a football team that will need contributions from two-way players, Jackson has shown that challenges aren’t much of a problem for him. Even if he does meet a challenge at first, the resiliency he showed in his freshman year, combined with his remarkable natural ability, will make him one of the premier athletes in his class.
“He’s going to be a load in the coming years in both football and basketball,” MacKay said.
Opportunities to start may present themselves for Jackson in his sophomore year as the Irish graduated three starters. He likely won’t be the only impact player from his class, as the Freshman A team finished second in the WCAL.
Other players considered for this award include Hillsdale’s Calvin Mader-Clark and Burlingame’s Sean Richardson and Will Uhrich.
NOTE: We would like to thank our media partners, coaches, parents, players and fans for contributing photos for our all-section features.
We salute all of the players that have made this a wonderful season of CCS basketball.