Break helps Jackson re-discover passion

Trinity Western Spartans Tonner Jackson took a year away from basketball to re-energize himself for the game he has played since he was six years old. - TWU Athletic Department
Trinity Western Spartans Tonner Jackson took a year away from basketball to re-energize himself for the game he has played since he was six years old.
— image credit: TWU Athletic Department

At this time last year, Tonner Jackson was banging bodies in the paint with players 20-plus years his senior as part of a weekly pick-up basketball league in Ottawa for members of Parliament.

“Not going all out, but also not going soft, either,” explained Jackson about playing with elected politicians tasked with running the country rather than winning a pick-up hoops game.

“I would try to play hard defensively and try to distribute the ball.

“I was still playing hard and working on parts of my game.”

Jackson, a six-foot-seven, 220-pound forward with the Trinity Western Spartans men’s basketball team, was in Ottawa as part of a four-month internship which was partly for the experience and partly as a way to re-energize himself for the game he had played much of his life.

“I just wasn’t into basketball like I once was and I needed a change,” he explained.

“I was very burned out and had no passion left for the game.

“I thought if I took some time off, it would give me some new perspective into whether I wanted to play or not.”

On the recommendation of some friends, Jackson took the entire 2011/12 season off from basketball and left for Ottawa in January to attend the Laurentian Leadership Centre.

The Centre is a residential internship program which houses TWU students for a four-month period as they take various interdisciplinary courses and get the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of internships.

Jackson, who graduates this spring with a degree in political science and philosophy, did his internship with Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

But while his time in the nation’s capital was enjoyable, Jackson did find himself missing playing the sport he has played since he was six years old.

“It was definitely hard looking at box scores,” Jackson said of keeping tabs on his Spartan teammates. “I remember wishing I could help them out.”

“(But) the break was something that really helped me,” he said.

“I had been playing competitive basketball for about 16 years, so I needed time to relax and get away from the court, which has allowed me to come back fired up to play.”

The 22-year-old rejoined the team at the start of this season but after playing in the team’s season-opener, a bad back sidelined Jackson for the next two months.

Now recovered and back in the line-up since the start of last month, Jackson has helped the Spartans turn the season around.

The team was also missing captains Tristan Smith and Eli Mara, but with the trio back playing, they have won seven of their past nine games to climb back to .500.

Jackson has been a big part of the turnaround.

Jackson is second on the team with 17.7 points per game while averaging just under 31 minutes per contest. He also has a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game.

“He is an ultra competitor,” said Spartans coach Scott Allen, who has known Jackson since the player was a sixth grader. He also coached Jackson for three seasons on the White Rock Christian Warriors senior boys team.

“He is going to try and find a way to win. He is relentless.”

The big thing Jackson brings is versatility, which allows the Spartans to take advantage of whatever mismatch they can create.

If a big man is covering him, Jackson is comfortable stepping outside and hitting the outside shot. And if the opponent tries to put a smaller, quicker player on him, Jackson will work in the post to exploit his height advantage.

“It is a tough mismatch and that just opens up opportunities for other players,” Allen said.

For his part, Jackson is just happy to be back playing with passion.

“It is just great to come in and contribute,” he said.

“I still take basketball very seriously, and am glad I came back.

“It stretches you physically, mentally and emotionally, and I think I would have regretted those things if I didn’t play as long as I could.”

Jackson, who had a 4.15 grade point average last semester,  still has two years of eligibility remaining, which he plans to use while doing his master’s at TWU.

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