- Associated Press - Friday, March 4, 2011

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Those schoolboy memories of summer vacation are forever frozen in Rick Jackson’s mind: Aaron Abbott bursting into his bedroom, rousing him from his dreams, forcing him to abandon the coziness of the covers to go shoot some hoops.

“He used to wake me up at 7 o’clock in the morning every day in the summertime to go work out. Every day,” Jackson said of Abbott, one of his basketball mentors back home in Philadelphia. “We’d be up late or whatever, and he’d come in the house _ mom would let him in _ and he’d come pull the sheets off you. For real.

“That just helped me a lot. It’s something that you don’t want to do, but now that I look at it, I think it helped put me in the position I’m in now.”

That would be as the anchor of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense. Jackson, a fierce rebounder and shot blocker, slick passer, and efficient shooter, is in a good place as his career at Syracuse winds down. He’ll play his last home game for the 12th-ranked Orange (24-6, 11-6 Big East) on Saturday against DePaul (7-22, 1-16), and with a victory Syracuse will earn a double-bye in the Big East tournament.

As the lone senior on the team, Jackson is certain to be showered with appreciative applause by the Carrier Dome faithful when he’s introduced.

“I’ll just go out there and try to have fun, play good,” Jackson said. “I want to look good for my family, the fans, being as it’s my last game in there. It’s hard to really tell with me (what my emotions will be). I can’t ever tell myself. I’ve just got to play, see how things happen.”

Jackson has made his mark at Syracuse. He is just the fifth player in school history to register 1,000 points (1,179), 800 rebounds (895) and 200 blocked shots (246). Roosevelt Bouie, Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman and John Wallace are the others.

On the season, the 6-foot-9 Jackson is averaging 13.1 points and 10.8 rebounds and has 73 blocks, 68 assists, and 37 steals. All are career highs and a testament to hard work and a change in diet after last season that allowed him to build muscle and shed more than 20 pounds.

“He’s been as steady over his four years as just about anybody we’ve had,” said Boeheim, in his 35th year as coach. “He contributed right away, he got better every year. The last two years he’s been as steady and consistent as you could ask a player to be.”

Jackson starts at power forward, but has had to man the center spot much of the time as raw freshman big men Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita have struggled.

No matter. All he’s done is register 17 double-doubles this season, 10 more than he posted in his first three years. That is easily tops in the conference. And in Big East play, Jackson leads the league in rebounding (10.1 per game) and blocks (2.8 per game), and is second in shooting (86 of 142 for 60.6 percent). He is also fourth in minutes played (37.1 per game).

“He’s a guy that should be getting great consideration for outstanding player in the league,” Boeheim said. “He’s the best two-way player in the league when you look at defense and offense.”

Perhaps most importantly, though, Jackson has gone from shy kid who always followed the lead of high school pal, Orange point guard Scoop Jardine, to vocal general on a team that has won four straight and appears to be peaking at the right time after a four-game skid.

“Just watching him direct traffic in the back of the zone, and you see him taking the lead in the huddle, it’s a great, great thing to see,” said Carl Arrigale, his coach at Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia. “It just seemed like he was in such a good place when I talked to him. It just seemed like he really figured it out _ more than anything a grown man that kind of knows what he wants.”

One that’s ready to move on.

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