GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — March is the month of madness. It is also the month of pressure.
Highly-ranked teams that are expected to do well in the state tournament can often be smothered by the pressure of expectations.
That also translates to the players. Take the player who receives the Miss Basketball award on Monday and then has to play in a quarterfinal game the next day.
Even tougher, the Miss Basketball winner is awarded the trophy again in a ceremony between the third and fourth quarters of the Division 3 state championship game and 20 minutes later returns to the court and tries to win the Division 2 state championship.
That can overwhelm any high school senior, but Detroit Edison (Mich.)’s Rickea Jackson learned how to use that pressure to her benefit.
“It made me feel like I had to win a championship even more,” Jackson said. “It’s like why not finish your season with Miss Basketball and a third state championship? If we didn’t get it I would have been very hurtful.”
It would have been devastating to the 6-foot-3 senior who won state championships in Division 3 as a sophomore and junior. Not to win another title could have put a damper on her Miss Basketball award.
More: How Rickea Jackson became best girls basketball player in Michigan. Ever.
This season Edison opted to play in Division 2, which should have been more difficult.
Pile on the Miss Basketball ceremony at Calvin College, and it could have been a readymade excuse had Jackson not lived up to the billing as the best player in the state.
“Winning that award definitely made me way more confident,” she said. “Just knowing that I can go out there and play my game and there was nothing more that I could do to prove anything to anyone, just go out there and play my game.”
Her game was magnificent. The Mississippi State signee scored 28 points and sparked Edison to an easy 77-58 victory over Freeland.
Freeland coach Tom Zolinski needed only one word to describe Jackson and the way she dominated the game.
“Amazing,” he said. “I mean, she really is. We would make a little run and she’d come back and hit a quick shot, either a mid-range shot or even a 3. She’s tough.”
After scoring five points in the first quarter in which Edison led 15-7, Jackson began the second period by scoring on an alley-oop pass. She then stole the ball and converted a three-point play and followed with another jump shot for a 16-point lead 40 seconds into the quarter.
That flurry seemed to suck the drama out of this game, but Freeland kept hanging around, hitting 3-point shots here and there to stay relatively close.
With 4:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, Edison’s lead was 14 when Jackson hit a jump shot. Following a Freeland bucket, Jackson nailed a 3-pointer and later added a pair of free throws to seal the lead.
Jackson brought a lot more than her scoring, rebounding and passing to the Edison program. It began with her leadership.
“Just the competitiveness she has, just pushing in practice, always getting everyone going,” Edison coach Monique Brown said. “She’s always pushing and pushing and talking and creating practice wars in practice. That makes games look a little easy for us because we’ve been working so hard in practice.”
Practice is where Edison became three-time state champ. It is where the wars are waged so the Pioneers could turn the state tournament into its playground.
Edison’s only regular season loss was to Columbus (Ohio) Africentric and it outscored its eight tournament opponents 613-253, which averages out to 77-32.
Through those practices, Jackson became a player no team could stop.
“We’re going against these major D-I prospects every day in practice and they’re pushing me and not letting up on me,” she said. “It definitely takes pressure off me in the game because I do it every day in practice.”
Jackson is not the only Division I recruit on this team, but she is the only senior. That does not bode well for the rest of the Division 2 teams in the state.
Don’t expect Edison to become just another program once Jackson graduates.
“Many, many years, more state championships,” Jackson said when asked what is in store for her school. “It just doesn’t run on me, it was a team effort. There are other great teammates and great shooters, scorers, rebounders that are still here so I think it can go a long time.”
But it won’t be the same Edison, without Jackson, who can lay claim to being the best player in state history.
“This is bittersweet,” she said. “I’m going to definitely, definitely miss high school. I believe my teammates and I have left a huge legacy. They’re letting me go off to college with three championships and I can’t do anything but thank them for that.”