As many people may know, student-athletes often get the benefit of receiving a scholarship to help offset the cost of attending college. They are also asked to perform well in their sport and in the classroom to earn it.
Going to school isn’t always easy, and most students will be faced with a myriad of challenges along the way to earning a degree. But Antino Jackson, point guard for the UNM Lobo basketball team this past season, arguably faced more than his fair share of adversity on his way to a degree.
Jackson attended school at Akron, where he also played three years of basketball as a ‘Zip’ prior to transferring to New Mexico. He said academic struggles in high school caused some programs to shy away from recruiting him and was thankful to Akron for giving him an opportunity.
Charles Thomas said he was the lead recruiter on Jackson when he was trying to get him to commit to Akron.
He said a childhood friend gave him a heads up about the guard and liked what he saw when he visited Houston, Texas to watch Jackson play.
Not only did Jackson get himself eligible to play, he also put himself in a position where he could earn his bachelor’s degree three years into his college career.
“It’s just a testament to his work ethic,” Thomas said. “He’s always been the hardest worker on the floor.”
Steve McNess, the director of operations for Duquesne men’s basketball, said he thought Jackson caught a grasp of how important academics were while at Akron — not only to his success on the basketball court or in the classroom, but also in life — and he figured it out quickly.
“(Jackson) is a very determined young man,” he said. “Anytime he sets his mind on something, and kind of gets fixated on it, he typically pulls it off.”
After his junior year at Akron, Jackson’s head coach and several members of the coaching staff accepted positions at Duquesne University and he was faced with a decision about where his academic and athletic pursuits would continue.
He ultimately decided he wanted to transfer to another school, but needed to pass 21 credit hours during the summer semester in order to be eligible for the NCAA graduate transfer program.
Jackson said history repeated itself as several coaches backed away from him again — wishing him the best of luck in his quest, but apparently unwilling to take a chance on the guard.
But UNM head coach Paul Weir put his faith in Jackson, as the first-year Lobo coach tried to piece together a roster in an attempt to resurrect the basketball program.
Jackson seemed to reciprocate, saying he was impressed with the coach and what he saw on his first visit to UNM, recalling the appeal of the fans, the community and the prospect of playing in The Pit.
He said his main goal was to find a landing spot that would give him the opportunity to play point guard, saying he believed in his ability to make any team better.
Jackson said he passed the course load — something he was proud of himself for accomplishing — and earned his degree in sports management.
He said the obstacles and knowing the path isn’t easy is part of what drives him to set and achieve goals.
“That is my reason to do it,” he said. “I can talk to myself and be like ‘Man, this is a lot’...but I know it has to be done in order to do what I want to do.”
That mentality is something Derek Kelly, Jackson’s friend and trainer, said he has always seen in the basketball player.
Kelly is the owner of A Million Reps, an athlete training and development company, and remembers meeting Jackson at the YMCA when he was in the eighth grade.
Kelly said there was something different about Jackson, that was often missing in other talented players — heart.
He said he noticed Jackson and his friend running ladder drills in between games and working on ball-handling skills.
Several years later, he said Jackson reached out after Kelly posted some workout videos on his Instagram page. He said Jackson wanted to get into the gym “and the rest is history.”
Kelly said he didn’t really give Jackson any advice about training at altitude when he came to Albuquerque, because of his ability to adapt. He said Jackson opted to try to make things work or at least make the best of a situation, rather than run away from challenges or problems.
And things didn’t seem to get an easier as Jackson still faced challenges even after arriving at UNM. The team started just 3-8 on the season and many people started referring to the campaign as a “throw-away season.”
But Jackson and the rest of the players found their footing, climbing from the early hole to finish third in the conference standing and rattled off seven straight wins before eventually losing in the Mountain West Championship game.
His season was littered with highlights, as the point guard helped guide the team through the choppy waters and steer them into a winning season.
A YouTube video of his highlights fittingly ended with his game-winning basket over San Diego State — perhaps his defining moment at UNM — in which he jab stepped to lose his defender and knocked down a go-ahead jumper to help lift his team to a 79-75 victory.
At one point during the season, Weir said he had never seen a player grow and learn so much as a senior — let alone a graduate transfer.
Kelly said Jackson’s father deserves a lot of credit, as he noticed him instilling hard work and discipline in his son by pushing him hard at a young age.
McNess mentioned that Jackson is “smart enough to know what he doesn’t know” and constantly seeks answers because he wants to absorb knowledge and get better.
And Thomas simply said “that’s just the kind of guy his is”. He also noted Jackson’s desire to please people is both his biggest flaw and his greatest attribute, adding that the student-athlete has a big heart.
He also said Jackson’s mother and the desire to make her happy are driving forces for Jackson, saying she is probably both his biggest fan and critic.
She was able to make it to Albuquerque to see his final home game, in which he was among three seniors who were honored that night. And while Jackson’s collegiate career is now over, the bachelor’s degree and journey it took to get there are things he and his family will place a lot of value on.
McNess said he’s proud of what Jackson has already accomplished and knows he is “long-term driven.” He said Jackson is a man he would be willing to bet on and believes the future is bright for him.
It remains to be seen whether Jackson will continue working to obtain his master’s degree in elementary education, but the point guard said his immediate plans are to do whatever is necessary to make it to the NBA.
“He’ll play until that ball stops bouncing,” McNess said. “And then I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll take all the same traits that he’s applied to basketball and apply them to life.”
Robert Maler is the sport’s editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and football and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.