During one of Jalen Jackson's visits to the University of Illinois Chicago, the Northrop senior realized he felt like he already went there.
On Tuesday evening, the feeling became official as Jackson announced that he will join the Flames basketball program over a number of other options, including Purdue Fort Wayne, Ball State, Wright State, Bellarmine, Toledo, IUPUI, Miami (Ohio), Winthrop and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Coach Yak always told me to believe, bring the heat,” Jackson said, referring to Flames coach Luke Yaklich. “I went down there and watched them practice a little bit, see the beautiful city of Chicago. You can't really get much better than that.”
UIC competes in the Horizon League, which means it regularly faces conference opponent PFW. The Flames went 6-10 in the Horizon League last season and finished with an overall record of 9-13.
Jackson averaged 22.3 points, 3.2 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals last season for the Carroll Chargers. After his mother, Katie Jackson, was named the Northrop girls coach this offseason, he transferred to Northrop, as did twin sisters Nevaeh and Saniya.
After a short video announcing Jackson would be joining the UIC program, all three of his sisters (Nevaeh, Saniya and youngest sister Swynn), and his mother read short statements describing their relationship with Jalen. All four made it clear that, in the words of Katie Jackson, basketball has been the Jackson family's love language through the years.
“(My mom) used to work at Lakeside Middle School, and we used to play one-on-one, battling, battling,” Jalen Jackson said of family workout sessions in the gym. “We would foul each other, laughing. We got mad at each other.
“We have those expectations for each other, to play at the highest level. That brought us together.”
Going to school in a major city like Chicago, his mother said, will give Jalen, who wants to be a chiropractor, numerous educational and, eventually, professional opportunities. And while she has all the nerves of any parent preparing for her oldest to leave the nest, she also said Jalen has already proved that he can handle adult responsibilities.
“You're going to laugh, but he goes to the grocery store for me sometimes,” she said. “He's the other driver in my household, so he takes his sisters to physical therapy. When I'm here late, sometimes he'll take his sisters to dinner. He does all those little things that typical 17-year-old kids don't do. He's helping his little sister with algebra homework so I can help the twins. He is the other pseudo-adult in our house most of the time.”