If you push him, Ray Jackson will tell you about all the nights he lit up those high school gyms around Austin, Texas. He was the scorer then, the star. When reporters came to his school, LBJ High, he was the one they wanted to talk to; his were the dunks that made the rims quake and the cheerleaders shake. If you ask him about this now, he will grin sheepishly, as if you've found out his little secret.
Jackson is not the star anymore. He is one of Michigan's Fab Five—the fifth of those five illustrious sophomores, to hear him tell it. "I'm the one you might have to think for a second to remember," he says. "You go, 'Chris and Jalen, Juwan, Jimmy and, uh...Ray.' But that's cool. I don't need the hype."
He doesn't need it, because he knows how much the Wolverines need him. In every one of Michigan's NCAA tournament victories, the 6'6" forward made crucial contributions. Some were big: He harassed Coastal Carolina's best player, Tony Dunkin, into shooting four for 20 in Round 1, and he scored 19 points against UCLA in Round 2. Others were small: In Sunday's West Regional final against Temple, forward Chris Webber scored on a thunderous dunk off an offensive rebound late in the tight game. It was Jackson who had kept that rebound alive.
Each of the Fab Five has a role. Webber and center Juwan Howard score and rebound, point guard Jalen Rose runs the team, and guard Jimmy King provides outside shooting. "My role?" Jackson says. "My role is to find something that needs doing and do it."
April 4, 1993
It wasn't easy for Jackson to adjust to that. He was the last of the Fab Five to work his way into the starting lineup, and he played the fewest minutes as a freshman. He even toyed briefly with transferring, remembering how much he had enjoyed his recruiting visit to Arkansas. It didn't help that when he went home to Austin after his freshman year, his friends told him he needed to grab some glory for himself.
"I would do my thing in pickup games back home, maybe put a move on somebody and score," says Jackson, "and they'd say, 'You need to do that at Michigan. You need to show 'cm what you can do.' "
Even now Jackson sometimes feels uncertain of his niche. At those times he seeks some long-distance advice from his best friend—his father, Ray Sr., an assistant football coach at LBJ High. "He knows what it takes for teams to win," Ray Jr. says. "He just tells me to remember that what I do is important."
What Jackson does is so important that without him, the Wolverines would not have made it to New Orleans. When Michigan meets Kentucky in the national semifinals, you might find Jackson out on the perimeter trying to smother one of the Wildcats' three-point shooters, or you might find him trying to cut off the drives of Kentucky's star, Jamal Mashburn. It all depends on what needs doing.