Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Musketeers prepare for trip to Bahamas


Jackson takes leadership role in Miller's first season at helm

By Dustin Dow
Enquirer staff writer

The air is just beginning to cool from late summer to early autumn in Greater Cincinnati, which means college basketball season can be only a few weeks away.

The Musketeers are getting a head start at Xavier University, where first-year coach Sean Miller conducted his fifth practice Tuesday as Xavier prepares for a preseason exhibition trip to the Bahamas Oct. 6-10.

EARLY BIRDS
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Xavier is in the midst of 10 practice sessions for its exhibition trip to the Bahamas Oct. 6-10. This is a foreign trip that college teams are allowed to take once every four years; however, it is the last year teams may make the trip during the school year.

Xavier is taking 11 of its 13 players to the Bahamas. Freshmen Churchill Odia and Boubacar Coly, both foreign students, are able to practice but will not make the trip because of visa concerns.


Miller acknowledged there is much to be sorted out in terms of individual roles for a Xavier team that must replace 61.1 percent of its scoring from last season. But Miller said he already knows the answer to the team's leadership questions after losing the likes of David West, Romain Sato and Lionel Chalmers in the past two years.

Miller, 35, didn't hesitate to say that Xavier's only senior, Keith Jackson, is ready to step in and fill the leadership void.

That's the same Keith Jackson who comes into the season with career averages of 3.7 points and 2.0 rebounds a game. His outside shooting has been so suspect that he did not even attempt a 3-point field goal until last season, when he missed all five of his long-range tries.

So why make Jackson the team captain when other veteran players such as Dedrick Finn or Brian Thornton could figure in more prominently for Xavier? Mainly, it is because of Jackson's character and the sense of urgency he possesses in his final season.

"Having been in big games, which he has, there's really something to be said for that," Miller said. "The tendency is for players who've been under that type of microscope in those types of situations ... to be successful, more so in their last year than their first couple years, because this is it."

Four years ago, it would not have sounded strange for a coach to predict that Jackson would inherit this role.

But for the past three seasons, the once can't-miss prospect from Purcell Marian struggled to find steady playing time. A valuable and supportive teammate, Jackson was frustrated with a lack of understanding over what his role entailed.

Now Jackson, his teammates and coaches say his job is that of the team's leader, even though his playing history might suggest Jackson is more capable of off-court than on-court leadership.

[img]
Xavier's Keith Jackson eyes the hoop during practice Tuesday.
(Enquirer photos/JEFF SWINGER)
"I've been here with Dave West, Romain, Lionel, and I've seen what it takes to win ballgames," said Jackson, who started 10 games in 2002-03 when Chalmers went down with a foot injury. "I plan on being a lot more aggressive this year."

Last year, Xavier stumbled through the first half of the season, while its three seniors, Sato, Chalmers and Anthony Myles, battled for leadership supremacy.

It wasn't until Chalmers took over those reins in February and Myles and Sato accepted secondary roles that Xavier turned around its season and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

"Keith Jackson is going to be a great leader," said Thornton, a junior transfer from Vanderbilt who is expected to establish Xavier's inside presence. "I'm trying to be a leader, but I don't want to overstep him right now. For now, I'm going to do what I can to help Keith lead."

Thornton has been the most impressive of Xavier's newcomers.

"In Brian's case, I wouldn't say a surprise," Miller said, "but expectations from watching him through these 10 days are very high, and I think he has a chance to be a terrific player these next two years."

XU announces 10 FSN games

These 10 Xavier men's basketball games will be televised on Fox Sports Net this season:

• Nov. 19: Oakland, 7:30 p.m.

• Nov. 22: Miami U., 7:30 p.m.

• Nov. 30: Creighton, 7:30 p.m.

• Dec. 11: at Tennessee, 4:30 p.m.

• Jan. 3: Iowa State, 7:30 p.m.

• Jan. 19: Richmond, 7:30 p.m.

• Feb. 2: La Salle, 7:30 p.m.

• Feb. 5: Rhode Island, 8 p.m.

• Feb. 16: St. Bonaventure, 7:30 p.m.

• March 2: at Richmond, 7:30 p.m.

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E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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