In the Oklahoma basketball scene, everyone knows Jack

Leonard Jackson has been coaching elite-level summer basketball teams for more than four decades. Saturday night, a couple hundred people gathered in Oklahoma City for a surprise party to honor the man they call “Jack.” They just figured that after 40-plus years, it was time to say thank you.
by Jenni Carlson Published: September 28, 2013
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The government and the good lord know him as Leonard Jackson.

In the basketball world, he's just Jack.

Neither the man nor the name are well-known to most sports fans in Oklahoma, but go into any gym in the state, and you're bound to find someone who knows Jack.

“If you don't know Jack,” former Oklahoma standout Kermit Holmes said, “shoot, you lost.”

Jack has been coaching elite-level summer basketball teams for more than four decades, first with the Oklahoma City Rams program, now with Athletes First. At one time or another, he's been in the gym with virtually every major-college player who's come through the state's basketball pipeline.

Saturday night, a couple hundred people gathered in Oklahoma City for a surprise party to honor Jack. He didn't hit a milestone. They just figured that after 40-plus years, it was time to say thank you.

Jack never asked for any recognition. That's not why scours gyms all over the state looking for players who deserve a chance. Not why he uses his own money to feed kids playing in tournaments. Not why he drives hundreds of miles to take players to and from practice.

He does it because of the kids.

“That is his life,” his wife, Charlene, said. “He loves it.”

* * *

Jack started coaching in 1968 fresh out of Dunjee High, the historically black school in Oklahoma City. For several years, he coached little league football and baseball, which he eventually gave up.

But when he was 20, he got into basketball.

He never left it.

He eventually joined the Rams, which was the elite youth summer basketball program on the west side of the state for decades. Run by the legendary coach Johnnie Williams, the Rams fielded teams for various age groups.

Jack never coached the older teams, the ones with high school juniors and seniors. He always stuck with the younger squads. He preferred it that way.

Those kids, he believed, were just beginning to realize their potential.

And he was always on the lookout for the next generation of Rams. That meant he went to junior high games. Freshman games. Jayvee games. If Jack thought there might be a player there, he was there.

He became a fixture in gyms in the Oklahoma City metro area. He couldn't go to a game without being recognized.

Nothing has changed since he joined Athletes First a little over a decade ago. Once the high school season starts, he goes to a game almost every night. Add that to his coaching duties once the summer season starts, and that's a lot of basketball.

“He went through three wives,” Charlene said. “It probably would've been four, but I was too old to go anywhere.”

Charlene laughs whenever she's out with her husband. Doesn't matter where they are. Store. Church. Restaurant. Someone will always come say hi to Jack.

One time, she went with him to Las Vegas for a tournament. She usually doesn't go on his basketball trips — that's his time — but she decided that she wanted to go.

“Oh, good,” Charlene thought, “we're finally going somewhere that nobody will know him.”

They checked into their hotel, and from down a hallway, they heard a holler.

“Jack!”

It was Darryl Dawkins, the former NBA dunk master who now coaches youth teams in New Jersey.

Holmes, who played for Jack and is now an assistant at Lamar, runs into other college coaches on the recruiting trail who know Jack.

“I consider him one of the patriarchs,” Holmes said. “He's a legend around there.”

* * *

Holmes remembers when he first met Jack. He was in high school at the time playing summer ball for the Tulsa Hawks. The Hawks were the elite program on the east side of the state while the Oklahoma City Rams were the elite squad on the west side.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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