Three years ago, during Reggie Jackson's senior season at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, a legendary opposing coach deemed him the best high school basketball player in state history.
“He's the best at this point,” said Dan McKiernan, a Colorado High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee who was in his 46th season at the time.
That would make Jackson better than guard Micheal Ray Richardson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 1978 draft; better than center Joe Barry Carroll, the No. 1 pick in the 1980 NBA Draft; and better than point guard Chauncey Billups, the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft.
“We were undefeated and played Chauncey Billups' (George Washington High School) team three times,” McKiernan told The Denver Post in 2008. “At this point, Reggie's tougher. There's no doubt in my mind. Chauncey wasn't as explosive. Chauncey dished it. Not that Reggie is selfish, but he takes over a game.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti first contacted coach Steve Donahue several years ago while he was in the process of building Cornell into an Ivy League power, going 72-21 with three NCAA Tournaments his final three seasons there, including a 2010 Sweet 16 appearance.
When he became Jackson's coach at Boston College in April of 2010, Donahue moved to the same town where Presti attended Emerson College. It added yet another branch to Presti's Beantown connection that includes the 2007 trade with the Boston Celtics involving Ray Allen, plus the Feb. 24 trade to obtain Celtics center Kendrick Perkins.
Presti is very complimentary of Donahue's work, and vice versa. Presti said knowing Donahue was extremely valuable in the evaluation process of Jackson.
“I love how they do things,” Donahue said of the OKC organization. “I love the Thunder. I just think it's a great organization for a young player to come into.”
Jackson had surgery on his right knee on May 17 and missed several workout sessions with NBA teams anxious to evaluate the 6-foot-3 guard with the astounding 7-foot wing span.
When Donahue arrived at Boston College prior to last season, it was Jackson's first workout session that left an immediate impression.
“At first, I watched film of Reggie,” Donahue said. “Then I worked him out and, well, Reggie is pretty spectacular in a workout situation.”
Born in Pordenone, Italy, Jackson is the youngest of three sons and comes from a military family. His father, Saul, is in the Air Force.
“I was born in Italy,” Jackson began, “moved to England, stayed there for some years, then North Dakota for a year, Georgia for about five, Florida for one and then Colorado Springs (in sixth grade). Even though I was there, I still moved around a lot.”
When Jackson entered his junior season in high school, each day he awoke at 5 a.m., lifted weights for an hour, then went to the Palmer gym and shot 500 jumpers, all while maintaining a B-plus average taking college-prep courses.
On game days, Jackson's coaches demanded he skip this private regimen so he would have some energy for that night's game.
Jackson also was disciplined at Boston College, where he took at least two classes every summer. He is now only a handful off courses away from earning his bachelor's degree in communications despite leaving after his junior season.
“Basketball is great for me, but you never really know what's going to happen tomorrow,” Jackson said. “At least I'll have something to fall back on, maybe one day be a sports analyst.”