Desmar Jackson's dribble drive and razor-sharp precision to weave through man-to-man and zone defenses are well documented in this area and around the state of Ohio.
The former Warren G. Harding basketball standout took his talents west a couple of seasons ago to play two seasons for then University of Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer.
Jackson's talents were quickly noticed as he won freshman all-American honors.
Special to Tribune Chronicle / Southern Illinois University
Southern Illinois University junior guard Desmar Jackson, a former Warren G. Harding High School standout, gets past Upper Iowa’s Joey Woods during an exhibition game Nov. 3 in Carbondale, Ill. Jackson averages 11 points per game for the 3-0 Salukis.
When Schroyer was fired with a month left in the 2010-11 season, it left Jackson wondering about his collegiate future. He was recruited by then Wyoming assistant Anthony Stewart.
Stewart then headed east to Carbondale, Ill., where Jackson soon followed as both landed at Southern Illinois.
"I just wanted to start somewhere new," Jackson said.
Jackson sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, seeing Stewart be one of Chris Lowery's assistants with the Salukis.
"It gave me more time to focus on my game and work on the little things like ballhandling, left-handed shooting. I have to work on my jump shot a lot," Jackson said.
He wouldn't be able to show Stewart, an Akron native, or Lowery his improvements as Lowery's contract wasn't renewed at Southern Illinois.
Enter coach Barry Hinson, who spent the past four seasons on Bill Self's staff at Kansas.
Hinson said, under Jackson's circumstances, he has done quite well.
"You got the end of both spectrums here," Hinson said. "On the offensive end, he is incredibly talented. On the defensive end, he has a chance to be but he hasn't bought in on that level of being a complete player yet. In his defense, he hasn't played in a year and half. A lot of this is new to him. And, also in his defense, he's had three different coaches in three years. That would make anybody nuts - three different styles, three different personalities. I think that has a lot to do with it.
"If I had to grade him right now, I would say he's doing really well compared to what all he has to go through."
Jackson knows his defense must be up to par each and every night for Hinson's approval.
"He's a defensive guy," Jackson said. "He wants you to play defense. He's going to stay on you about defense. I like coach Hinson because he's not going to give up on you. He's going to make you go harder at practice and keep pushing.
"I can't take no plays off on defense. If I do, he'll probably take me out. We need to play good defense in order for us to win a lot of games this year."
So far, the Salukis have got off to a 3-0 start and Jackson scored 17 points in the opening win at New Orleans. Hinson expects Jackson, who has averaged 11 points, six rebounds and two assists, to be a more complete player.
"Defensively, he wasn't that good," Hinson said. "Offensively, he could've been better, but he got into foul trouble. The reason he got into foul trouble was his defensive deficiencies. The best part of this deal is everything is correctable. Obviously we could correct it by teaching it every day, but there has to come a point that he's got to buy in to this is what we're going to do."
Physically, Jackson has added 12 pounds to his frame. He is 6-foot-5 and 183 pounds.
"Strength and conditioning wasn't a priority before I got here for whatever reason," Hinson said. "There's all different schools of thought. The one thing we've done is make sure he's eating three meals a day. He's lifting. He's lifting three times a week. You're looking at a young man who's added 12 pounds to his frame. We couldn't even register his body fat the first time we did it. I'm not kidding you. We're finally getting to the point where he's getting a little more strength, a little more stamina."
Hinson is not only feeding Jackson's body, but his mind as well. Southern Illinois has been plagued with injuries and some suspensions in the preseason. Hinson has implemented a life skills program, speakers coming in to talk to the players on a variety of issues.
Jackson, who Hinson said the WGH standout was an "innocent bystander" during the Salukis' setbacks, sees Hinson as someone that has helped him on and off the court.
"He's always going to tell you the real things in life," Jackson said. "He's not going to beat around the bush with you. He's going to keep it real with you, to make sure you're doing the right thing so you'll be successful down the road."
Jackson, who has played anywhere from the point guard to power forward, said he and his teammates want to prove they are better than the sub .500 team the Salukis have been the past four seasons.
"People aren't expecting us to do too good this year," Jackson said. "It's like us against the world, for real. We have to stay together and play together as a team. We're all brothers, so we've got to stick together."
Southern Illinois travels to Saint Louis on Saturday.