THE chance to return as head coach at the Perth Redbacks where it all started for him in Western Australia was too much to resist for CJ Jackson and to be also doing it alongside his son who will star on the court make it a dream come true.
Little did anybody know, let alone Jackson, that when he arrived in WA to play with the Redbacks as an import back in 1990 that it would end up becoming his permanent home and still 30 years later, that’s where he’d still be.
Also, it was difficult to imagine him taking on another head coaching role after he had decided to step aside as being in charge of the Perry Lakes Hawks women having taken them to a semi-final appearance in 2016.
Jackson remained heavily involved in coaching basketball below the SBL level throughout the state, though, and all of a sudden when Nik Lackovic decided he needed a break after his remarkably successful stint as Redbacks coach, Jackson felt it was his duty to put his hand up.
He had a remarkable history already with the Redbacks having started his SBL career in 1990 at the club and being a key part of that championship-winning team, averaging 11.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game.
That was a team that included Luc Longley for 17 games, Andrew Vlahov for 22 and the likes of Ian Frame, Craig Evans, James Tharpe, Andrew Lewis, Gary Bowering and Kent Kavanagh.
That first season at the Redbacks was only the beginning of Jackson’s remarkable contributions to basketball in WA that continue to this day.
His playing days took him to the Willetton Tigers, East Perth Eagles and then back to the Redbacks for the 1994 and 1995 seasons before he headed south to join the Mandurah Magic.
There, he eventually became playing-coach and did such an impressive job he was named the 1999 Coach of the Year while also providing 11.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists on the court for the Magic.
He’d go on to play the last of his 260 games in the SBL in 2000 but the last 20 years have only seen his stature in WA basketball continue to grow, and flourish.
Whether it’s been coaching back at the Redbacks, with the Swan City Mustangs, Cockburn Cougars or East Perth, during his stint as general manager of the SBL or chief operating officer of Basketball WA, or in running Skyplay Sports, Jackson and basketball in WA have gone hand in hand.
He even spent time as an NBL assistant coach at the Perth Wildcats so it’s fair to say when he put his hand up to coach the Redbacks again in 2020 following on from the amazing legacy built this past decade by Lackovic, it soon became a relatively straight forward appointment.
It was an emotional thing for Jackson too to be able to come back and coach at the Redbacks where it all started for him in Western Australia 30 years ago.
“It’s an emotional thing for me because it’s the first club that gave me a chance to come out here and play,” Jackson said.
“I think I spent about seven years with the Redbacks initially with the club so for me to come back and be in the red-and-black, and be a part of the history and try to teach the history of who we are and what the club is all about is one of the greatest things for me to come back to, and to do.”
Jackson was also able to recruit his former NBL playing son Tevin to join the Redbacks in 2020 as well after he spent time at the Perry Lakes Hawks in 2019 once he’d overcome a serious injury.
For the father and son to be back together at the Redbacks is something else that makes Jackson look back with fond memories of back to those years in the mid-1990s.
“It’s very exciting to have Tevin here with me too. One of the years I played, Tevin was a little baby and when we first started playing at Belmont Oasis Leisure Centre, I would take him with me to training and he was only six months old,” he said.
“He would watch us train and everything so for me back then when I first played at the club and 25 years later, it’s a pretty good feeling to be undertaking this journey with him back at the club.”
Following his last stint coaching in the SBL where Jackson did well building up the Perry Lakes Hawks into a force from which Deanna Smith was able to take over and guide to the 2017 women’s championship, he did think his head coaching days were done.
But he has remained a keen onlooker of the league, has continued to coach extensively below the top level and just felt his expertise was required when the Redbacks job became available.
“When I finished up coaching the Perry Lakes women I said I was going to put the boots up and not coach anymore, but I just think there were too many openings that came up at the end of last year,” Jackson said.
“I didn’t feel like there were enough candidates to take on all those roles so that’s why I decided to get back involved. I didn’t want to let some of these kids miss out on getting good coaching so I was ready to come back in especially when it came to this club, I was really excited to be coming back at the Redbacks.”
Helping the next generation with the fundamentals of basketball is where Jackson’s ultimate passion lies, and that will tie in just nicely with building things at the Redbacks as well.
“We have our own basketball academy going on plus I coach at Scotch College so I’m kind of around basketball at least 30 or 40 hours per week, or at least I was before all this [COVID-19] happened,” he said.
“So coaching kids all the way up from little kids to being semi-professional athletes is what I think is my calling now. I’m pretty happy with what my calling is.”
It hasn’t only been an emotional start to 2020 for Jackson with his return to the Redbacks and now with the uncertainty over what shape the season will take thanks to the effects of COVID-19, but the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi hit him hard too.
Jackson’s love for the Los Angeles Lakers, and in turn Bryant, is far from a secret. Bryant’s death earlier this year came off the back of Jackson having recently taken a touring group to Bryant’s Mamba Academy. Jackson was shaken to the core.
“I’m at Scotch College and we went on a tour in late December and early January, and we actually went to the Kobe Bryant Mamba Academy. We were there and he wasn’t there, but then we went to a Lakers game and everything was right there,” Jackson said.
“Then fast forward and we were in Dandenong when the news broke and everybody knows I’m a passionate Lakers supporter, but when anybody from your basketball fraternity who is part of that world group, and someone so special leaves the game and has been taken from us all, it really has a big impact.
“Then it’s not only him, but all the others involved in that accident, it was just such a hard thing. My heart is still broken from that and it’s still a tough thing to think about and I don’t think a lot of us will ever really get over it.”