I remember the first time I saw Devin Jackson in a Montana State University-Northern Lights’ uniform. And immediately, he passed the eye test.
The eye test is when you just look at a basketball player…you haven’t seen him take a shot, or dribble, or make a pass or even run or jump. But even getting off the bus, you just know he can play.
I can vividly remember thinking that about Jackson the first time I saw him as he was about to make his home debut for the Lights four years ago. I hav
e no idea who the Lights were playing or even what Jackson did in that game. But I can still remember thinking that Jackson was going to be special. That he was going to be one of those players no Northern basketball fan will ever forget.
Now I’ll admit, sometimes I get it wrong. I’m not a scout, I’m not a coach, and actually, I’ll admit, I wasn’t that great of a player. But I didn’t get it wrong about Jackson. In fact, I was right on the money.
Jackson migrated to Northern from Denver, Colo., four years ago, and neither his life, or the Northern program has ever been the same.
MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse found Jackson in an unusual way. Jackson says he was out of basketball almost two full years and working at a local Sports Authority when he gave his number to someone who asked if he could pass it along to college coaches. Somehow, Devin’s name and number found its way to Huse and the rest is history.
“You know, it’s been a good ride,” Jackson said. “Coming from a big city to Havre, I didn’t know what to expect. But it’s always been like a family here. Ever since I got here, I’ve been close with all my teammates, and my coaches and the community support is so great, it’s like a big family and that really has helped me through my years here. Havre has always felt like home to me and that’s really helped me the most.”
And Havre and Northern have been a great match for Jackson and vice versa.
From the moment Jackson started playing for the Lights, everything changed. Certainly, Northern has had great players in the past, so many it would be hard to know where to start the list and certainly difficult to end it. But Jackson’s impact on the current MSU-N program has been as profound as any player who’s suited up for the Lights in recent history.
Take away all of Jackson’s individual achievements for a minute and just look at what the Northern program has achieved in his time here. The Lights have won at least 20 games in all four of Jackson’s seasons in Havre. They’ve gone to back-to-back NAIA national tournaments, and have won back-to-back Frontier Conference postseason titles. Northern has also shared the Frontier’s regular season title in Jackson’s first three seasons at MSU-N and the Lights have won no less than 10 conference games in every year he’s played for them.
Of course, Jackson didn’t do it alone. He’s had help along the way. In fact, one of the more intriguing things about his career at MSU-Northern is that he’s essentially played on three different teams and all three have been successful. Jackson’s freshman season, he played on a senior-laden team which just missed out on a trip to the NAIA national tournament, then he acquired a slew of new teammates for what was great Northern runs in 2010-11 and 2011-12. After his junior campaign, eight players left Northern, and in this, his senior season, he’s again playing on a new team, which has again won 20-plus games, finished in the upper half of the Frontier Conference and has been ranked as high as No. 9 in the NAIA this season.
I think it’s pretty safe to say Devin Jackson makes everyone around him better. I think it’s pretty safe to say Devin Jackson is a leader, and I’m pretty certain it’s safe to say the Lights would not have had as much success the last four years if Jackson hadn’t have found his way north from Denver.
“Devin is one of my most favorite guys I’ve ever coached,” Huse said. “He’s obviously been a great player for us for four years. But he’s been so much more for our program than just a great player. He’s came to Havre a long way from home, and he’s been without his family for much of that time. So he bought into our program and really made Havre his home and Northern his family for the time he’s been here. He’s going to graduate at the end of this semester, he’s been a great leader on our team, he’s been a great student-athlete and of course, an all-conference performer. I just couldn’t be more proud of him for all he’s achieved.
“And one of the things you really admire about him is the fact that he’s basically played with three different teams,” Huse continued. “And he and those teams have all been successful in their own way. I think that really says a lot about Devin’s dedication to this program, about what kind of a teammate he is and of course, what kind of player he is.”
“I’ve always had great teammates, I’ve always been able to bond really well with all the different guys we’ve had here,” Jackson said. “Coach Huse does a really good job of bringing in great guys and I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of great players and to be on some really good teams. And to play for coach Huse and a great coaching staff has really helped me too. I wouldn’t have been able to do all the things I’ve done here without any of them. All my teammates and coaches have helped me as much as I’ve hopefully helped them.”
Being humble is one of Jackson’s many qualities you instantly find yourself liking about him. He’s soft-spoken and always quick to talk about others. He’s also direct, honest and open and those traits are one’s of the many I’ve enjoyed while covering him over the last four years. By all accounts, Jackson is as great a guy off the court as he is on it, and he’ll easily go down as one of my favorite Northern players of all time.
But Jackson, as great a teammate and as unselfish as he is, should revel in what he’s achieved as a basketball player in his four years in Havre. His list of individual accomplishments is long and distinguished and they put him right up there with some of the all-time greats at Northern. For what he’s done on the basketball court, he deserves the praise and the accolades and all the things that come with being great. Because Jackson has truly been great.
Not only have all of his Northern teams found great success, he has too. He’s already a two-time Frontier First-Team All-Conference performer, and is well on his way to being named that again as he’s averaging 14 points and four assists this season. Jackson also joined Northern’s illustrious 1,000-point club earlier this season, and heading into Northern’s first-round playoff game with UGF, he’s scored 1,347 points which ranks him ninth on Northern’s all-time scoring list. For his career, Jackson has also averaged three assists and four rebounds per game, and has always been a top-notch defender for the Lights.
Jackson will also depart Northern with his degree this Business Administration this spring. And while his collegiate successes on and off the court will certainly take him places far into the future, just like on that first night I ever saw him in the Armory Gymnasium, we as fans won’t ever forget him, and he won’t forget Northern.
“He’s been great,” Huse said. “He’s been everything we hoped he would be when we recruited him, and more. I’m just so proud of him, and I’m always going to have a special place in my heart for Devin Jackson.”
“It feels good knowing what I’ve done in my career,” Jackson said. “I came here with the mindset of just wanting do whatever I could for this team and this program. I wanted to just be the best basketball player I could be. And I’ve had a lot of success with my teammates, on and off the court and that feels good. I have all my teammates and coaches to thank for that. It’s been a great ride.”
We, as fans of the game of basketball, get lucky every once in a while. We get to see the Michael Jordan’s, the Bill Russell’s or the LeBron James’ of the sport do their thing. We, as fans of Northern basketball have been lucky too. We’ve seen some great ones run up and down the floor at the grand ole’ Armory Gymnasium over the years.
And that’s we got with Devin Jackson. We got lucky. We are lucky to have been able to watch him play the last four years. We are lucky for all the success he’s helped bring to the Northern program, and perhaps most importantly, we were lucky to have such a great person and a great student-athlete in our community and on the Northern campus for the last four years.