WINONA LAKE – Grace College women’s basketball coach Scott Blum says players like Juaneice Jackson are the reason why he’s coaching at a small, Christian school.
Spend a few minutes with Jackson and learn her story and it’s easy to see why he truly feels that way.
Jackson, or “JJ” as she is known by everyone, is living proof that faith and strength of character can take one a long, long way.
Jackson, a native of Gary and the lone senior for Blum’s squad, has persevered and matured to become the program’s all-time leading scorer. She will lead the host Lancers into first-round play in the NCCAA Championships Wednesday evening with 1,830 career points. No. 8 seed Grace will play top-seeded Lee University (23-5) at 5:15 p.m. in the eight-team tourney, which runs through Saturday at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
It’s been a long and trying journey, at times, for the smooth southpaw guard.
“I’m most proud of her maturity,” said Blum of his star. “She’s grown up to be an awesome young lady and it’s been a blessing to see her grow. She had a tough first couple of years here and she learned to fight through adversity.”
Jackson wound up at Grace after graduating from Calumet High School almost by accident.
“She fell into our lap,” Blum recounted. “My father-in-law saw her play in an AAU tourney and called me and he never did that. There was no recruiting of her. I saw her play one game.”
Jackson has built her faith through tough times. She lost her mother before the age of seven and was raised, along with her three sisters, by her grandmother Gloria. Her grandmother then passed away after her sophomore year at Grace.
“It was really hard and I was traumatized when my grandmother died,” recalled Jackson. “But, God used that to bring me to him. It allowed me to change and motivated me to let God have control of my life.
“My grandmother stressed the importance of God. I’ve been most proud of my growth in Christ these last couple of years since her death. It shows how powerful God is. He’s still blessing me and my life is proof that you can’t do anything without God.”
“I have so much joy in my life now. God always has a plan for you, whether you agree with it or not.”
Jackson is averaging a team-high 18.2 points-per-game for Grace. She has earned All-American honors in leading the Lancers to a 17-15 mark, the fourth straight season that the team has been .500 or better. Grace had posted 18 straight losing seasons prior to going 17-17 in her freshman season in 2010-11. Jackson also leads her team in steals (79), assists (80), 3-pointers (53) and minutes played per game (35.9). She had a game-high 23 points last Thursday as the Lancers beat Oakland City 84-66 to claim the NCCAA Midwest Regional title.
“JJ is athletic and has the ability to score,” said Blum. “She had a tough first couple of years here, but she’s worked at it. She brings energy on defense and out team feeds off her. She’s quiet and humble and she has grown. She’s learned how to trust her teammates.”
Jackson, despite some tough love from Blum, has grown to admire her coach.
“At first, I wanted to do things my way, but my respect for coach has grown so much,” Jackson said. “He trusted me and that gave us a stronger connection. We will be friends for life. In fact, after I finish playing, I want to coach here and be his recruiter.”
Blum admits that it’s going to be an emotional time when he sees No. 13 graduate from Grace later this spring.
“JJ is a player I will stay in touch with forever,” said Blum. “It’s going to be the best day when she walks across that stage at graduation. I’m going to need a box of Kleenex’s that day.”
Jackson, who hopes to play overseas, says succeeding is about much more than just talent.
“My basketball skill and talent was God-given and was always there,” said Jackson. “It was just about overcoming confidence issues and releasing it. I’m most happy and proud of my development and growth as a person.
“Perseverance is the key. You have to stay positive. If you do, you can come out on top.”
Jackson is living proof of that.