On March 8, 1975, a freshman named Derrick Jackson found himself open with two seconds to play, down one, with an NCAA bid on the line. He sank a 20 footer for the win and Georgetown's first NCAA bid in 32 years.
But if all you know about Derrick Jackson is that one play, you'll miss a story about a player whose record on and off the court stands among the school's great athletes of any sport.
Jackson was a two sport star at Wheaton Central HS, whose baseball prowess was such that he was drafted by the Texas Rangers, but ultimately chose college basketball over a minor league contract. He played a season of fall baseball at Georgetown before beginning basketball in the fall of 1974, alternating with Mike Riley at guard. Jackson averaged 10.6 points his freshman season, with a season high 19 points against St. John's, the Hoyas' first road win against the Redmen since 1948. It was Jackson's play in March 1975, however, which is truly memorable.
The Hoyas opened play in the ECAC tournament against George Washington, which had defeated the Hoyas earlier that season and in seven of its last nine games of the series. With ten first half points and 18 overall, Jackson's mid-range shooting led the Hoyas into the final against homestanding West Virginia. Led by guard Bob Huggins and his 14 points, the Mountaineers led at the half 32-31 and looked to have the upper hand when big men Merlin Wilson and Larry Long each fouled out late. Within 0:54 left, down three, Jackson hit a jumper to close to one, 61-60. The Mountaineers attempted to run out the clock, but guard Ernie Hall was fouled by Mike Riley with ten seconds to play.
Hall missed the front half of the one and one, and Rich Chvotkin's play by play picks up the story from there: "Hopkins with the rebound, the outlet pass to Bill Thomas..across court to Derrick Jackson...five seconds left...Jackson from the corner...IT'S IN!!!"
The 14,000 or so in the Coliseum went silent, that is, except for the few hundred Hoya fans who went into pandemonium, with a extensive post-game party to follow at the headquarters hotel. Georgetown had reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1943, on the shoulders of a freshman. A week later, Jackson nearly duplicated the feat, scoring 18 points against Central Michigan that might have won it, had not a bizarre foul called after the final whistle had blown spoiled the NCAA party.
By 1975-76, Jackson had taken over the scoring leadership from Jon Smith. Despite averaging only 13 shots per game, Jackson posted a 17 point average, scoring a career high 28 against Penn State. For post season play, Jackson scored 22 points each against Villanova and Arizona.
Jackson's junior season was a carbon copy of his sophomore success, almost literally. In 1976, he was 195 for 399 from the floor, in 1977, 198 for 404. Six points separated each year's statistics, a startling reflection of Jackson's consistent play all season. He led the team in five different scoring categories, with double figures in 27 of 28 games, tying his career best with 28 against Virginia Tech in the 1977 NIT.
For his senior season, Jackson continued to set high standards. He passed Jon Smith as the school's all time leading scorer early in the season, and became the school's first 1500 point scorer by mid-season. He helped lead the Hoyas to a record 13 game win streak midway in the season, and owing to a streak begun a year earlier, had scored double figures in 44 straight games.
Georgetown was a considerable favorite entering the 1978 ECAC tournament, but suffered a major loss when Jackson was rushed to the hospital just prior to game time in the opener with Virginia Commonwealth. A duodenal ulcer sidelined Jackson for the remainder of his senior year, and the Hoyas' NCAA hopes were sidelined as well. In the game against Virginia Commonwealth, the Hoyas struggled to an 88-75 loss. In the NIT, the Hoyas advanced into the NIT semifinals before losing on a buzzer beater in overtime to N.C. State, 86-85.
Jackson's career statistics are a model of excellence. A career 49 percent shooter, his 77 percent free throw accuracy is among the top 10, and his 88% free throw mark in the 1977-78 season remains the school record. Three times the team's leading scorer, he was named three times with the Daly MVP Award for the team's most valuable player. Only two other players have been so honored, including Patrick Ewing.
Beyond the statistics and the honors, Derrick Jackson is a man of faith, always seeing that competition for competition's sake was fruitless if it was not for the greater glory of God. Faith had always been a part of his journey, so when graduation arrived, Jackson passed on an NBA draft offer with the Golden State Warriors to join Athletes In Action, a Christian sports ministry that plays in basketball exhibitions around the world. After three years with AIA, he began theological training at Wheaton College and later at Oral Roberts University. He served as 22 years an assistant pastor in Wheaton before becoming pastor in 2002 at a branch of Wheaton Christian Center Church in nearby Aurora, IL.
Derrick Jackson was selected in 1994 as the first Modern Era basketball player to enter the Georgetown University Athletic Hall of Fame, and was later named to the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.
More than a quarter century ago, John Thompson wrote the following: "Derrick Jackson is the finest all-around person that I have ever coached at Georgetown, not just because of his outstanding play on the basketball court but also because of the outstanding things he has accomplished in other areas.
"He has done everything I have ever asked of him in four years and no coach can ask for more than that."