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Former Mater Dei Star Chris Jackson Ends Long Search for Happiness and a Winning Program at UC Riverside : A SUCCESS STORY

February 06, 1989|CHRIS FOSTER | Times Staff Writer

Chris Jackson has never sought glory on the basketball court, only success.

All he asks for is a winning season, maybe a conference championship. A playoff berth? Sure, why not?

Success drove Jackson at Mater Dei High School and the lack of it drove him from UC Santa Barbara.

This desire for winning led Jackson to UC Riverside, after playing one year at Rancho Santiago College--where, of course, he had success.

"I don't expect everything to turn our rosy all the time, I just want to win," Jackson said. "It's a terrible day when you lose."

Jackson has found plenty of success since he came to Riverside in the fall of 1987. The Highlanders were 22-8 last season and are 17-2 this year. The times have been good, and so has Jackson.

Possibly Jackson's greatest moment came on Christmas Day, which he thought was going to be one of those terrible days.

Riverside had to face Iowa in the championship game of the Chaminade Christmas tournament in Hawaii.

That's right, Iowa , from the big time and Big Ten. Fourth-ranked Iowa. No one needed a caucus to predict the outcome of this one.

"They were joking around, smiling and laughing, during warmups," Jackson said. "I don't think they were taking us seriously."

Well, the last laugh was on the Hawkeyes.

Riverside, a Division II team from the California Collegiate Athletic Assn., upset the Hawkeyes, 110-92. The Highlanders set a National Collegiate Athletic Assn. record by making 21 of 36 three-point shots.

Jackson, a 6-foot-4 senior, contributed 12 points while being guarded by Roy Marble, an All-Big Ten selection a year ago. It wasn't exactly a scoring onslaught, but Jackson did hit some key baskets.

At one point in the second half, the Hawkeyes were making a run. With the 45-second shot clock winding down, Jackson got the ball behind the three-point line--the National Basketball Assn. three-point line--and sank a shot to beat the clock.

"Marble looked at me and said, 'That was luck,' " Jackson said. "The next time down, I went into the corner and made another three-pointer. Marble looked at me and shook his head. That still gets me pumped up.

"We were little Riverside before, now we're big Riverside."

Big or little, Jackson is at Riverside for just one reason--success. And he hasn't been disappointed, because the Highlanders are ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division II poll.

"Honestly, I didn't think we had a chance at Chris," Riverside Coach John Masi said. "I thought he was a little above our program. There were so many Division I schools interested in him."

The trek that landed Jackson in Riverside began at the Long Beach Arena in March of 1980.

Jackson, an eighth-grader, was sitting in the rafters with his friend, Mike Fielder. They watched in awe as Inglewood defeated Long Beach Poly, 52-46, for the Southern Section major division championship.

"We were watching Inglewood celebrating," Jackson said. "Mike and I decided right then that some day we were going to be the ones on the court celebrating."

But, in his dream, Jackson wasn't wearing a Mater Dei jersey.

At that time, the Monarchs had yet to win a Southern Section title and were considered just another good basketball school.

When Ray Alvarado, Jackson's traveling team coach, told him about Mater Dei, it didn't really mean much. He was already set on attending La Quinta with his friends.

The matter might have died had not Alvarado told John Jackson, Chris' father, about the Monarchs' program.

"My parents had always wanted to send their kids to a private high school," said Jackson, the youngest of seven children. "But they never had the means to do it until it was my turn to go to high school. My dad got it in his mind that Mater Dei was where I would go."

Jackson wasn't so sure.

"I had the vision that Catholic schools were strict," he said. "You had to go to church all the time and there were a bunch of nuns running around with rulers."

All through the summer, Jackson pleaded with his parents not to force him to attend Mater Dei. Finally, the night before school was to start, his parents relented and said he didn't have to if he didn't want to.

"By then, it was too late, I already had my clothes and books," Jackson said. "I was going to Mater Dei."

The Monarchs were moderately successful in Jackson's sophomore season. They qualified for the Southern Section 4-A playoffs and reached the quarterfinals.

The next season, Gary McKnight replaced Bill Alexander as coach. Mater Dei went on to win the first of its five Southern Section championships.

Jackson wasn't the star, but he was a key component--a little scoring, a little rebounding, a little defense. "I never wanted to be a star, I just wanted the team to win," he said.

It did.

In 1982-83, the Monarchs defeated Long Beach Poly in the final, 62-44, at the Long Beach Arena, where Jackson and Mater Dei teammate Fielder had sat in the rafters three years before.

"We were celebrating after the game and Mike and I looked and, at the same time, we said, 'remember,' " Jackson said.

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