Hungry Jack's NBL
Cedric Jackson Looks to Extend Historic Championship Streak
New Zealand Breakers point guard Cedric Jackson hates to lose. Talk to any member of the Breakers camp about their superstar point guard and it’s the first thing they’ll tell you; on and off the court, Jackson just cannot stand not winning. “The guy just hates losing, he hates losing at everything,” team captain Mika Vukona said about Jackson this week. “Everybody feeds off that. When you have somebody that’s leading you from the front like that, it’s pretty contagious and that’s why he keeps winning.” Keeps winning, indeed. In fact, Jackson – one of the key figures in this week’s Grand Final series – is one of the greatest winners in NBL history. Remarkably, the Breakers star has won a championship ring in each of the three previous NBL seasons he’s played, making him the only player in NBL history to win a title in each of his first three seasons in the League. He is, of course, only two wins away from extending that streak to four. Jackson’s career winning percentage of 74 percent (94 wins – 33 losses) is the best of any player in NBL history who has played an equivalent number of games/seasons. He’s an MVP (2013), a two-time Grand Final MVP (2013 and 2015) and a three-time member of the All-NBL First Team. Jackson leads the League in assists every season he plays and he’s also messed around and had five triple doubles over the course of his time in the NBL. For perspective, no other active player has achieved one – not one! – during the League’s 40-minute era. It must be said, Jackson is surrounded by outstanding talent at the Breakers. Corey Webster, Thomas Abercrombie and Vukona are all elite international players in their own right. But don’t be fooled: Ced-Jax is the key piece to New Zealand’s championship puzzle. After leading the Breakers to titles in 2012 and 2013, Jackson took his talents to Slovenia in 2014. In his absence, New Zealand finished second last. His return last season heralded a return to championship celebrations. Breakers reserve guard Shane McDonald, who has enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at Jackson this season, believes it’s those competitive instincts that drive the American to greatness. “He’s just the ultimate competitor,” McDonald said. “He hates to lose and it seems the bigger the moment – whether it be in a game or even in training – he’s the one that steps up and hits a big shot or makes a big play. He lives for those big moments and just goes to another level when it's required.” Rising to another level is precisely what Jackson did in Round 18 to save New Zealand’s season. With the Breakers’ playoff chances hanging by a thread, Jackson torched the Adelaide 36ers to the tune of 31 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists, knocking down a career-high seven three-pointers to lead New Zealand to victory. That win was the moment New Zealand’s season turned around. They haven’t lost since and have become the first team in NBL history to make the Grand Final after losing six consecutive games during the season. So much of that turnaround has revolved around Jackson. It’s one of his most impressive traits: the ability to do whatever’s needed for his team at any given time. Need some boards? He’s the best rebounding guard in the NBL, hands down. Need some extra possessions? He’s also one of the League’s all-time great thieves. Need some long-range buckets? Well, in recent times … Come get some! Over his past six games, Jackson is averaging 3.3 three-pointers made at a startling 50 per cent shooting from beyond the arc. In Game Two vs Melbourne, he started crossing dudes over and knocking down step-backs. “Those step-back threes are just killer,” Vukona laughed when asked about his team-mate’s recent run of form. The hot shooting’s been nice, but Mika believes Jackson’s true value can’t be tracked in the box score. “It’s just his leadership,” Vukona explained. “His intensity going into games, the way he’s able to lead. There’s a lot asked of him as our point guard and he does a great job of setting the tone for us, the way he talks, the way he organises everybody.” They’re comments that are echoed by McDonald. “He just knows what it takes to win and he’s that ‘head of the snake’ at the Breakers that is able to rally the troops,” the mature-age understudy said. “People really feed off his energy and the positivity he brings towards winning in those big games.” Jackson’s going to need every ounce of that energy over the next week as he battles five-time Best Defensive Player Damian Martin in what is arguably the Grand Final’s marquee matchup. Having duelled during the postseason many times before, Martin’s under no illusion as to the difficulty of containing Jackson in big-game situations. “He’s an ultimate competitor, he loves to win and at times he can carry the team,” Martin said when asked about the showdown. “I’m looking forward to matching up with him.” For a bloke who detests losing more than almost anybody, Cedric Jackson’s done very little of it over the course of his NBL career to date. Especially in the Finals! The man is 10-2 in the post-season across his career and has not experienced an ending to an NBL season that hasn’t involved championship joy.
The Breaker nation will be hoping to keep it that way.