On Friday, when freshman guard Bianca Jackson takes the court against Alabama State for her first collegiate game with South Carolina women’s basketball, her mother will likely have some very mixed feelings.
On one hand, Freda Freeman-Jackson will undoubtedly want her daughter to play well and make an impact for the defending national champions. On the other, if Bianca does excel, Freda’s own team will suffer – Freeman-Jackson has been coaching Alabama State for two decades.
As a result, Jackson grew up a student of the game – her father, Lewis Jackson, is Alabama State’s men’s head coach – and with her parents’ guidance, she developed into one of the best recruits in the country. ESPN rated her 43rd in her class, and she chose to attend South Carolina in September 2016, officially signing her letter of intent that November.
After that, USC coach Dawn Staley said, the Gamecocks coaching staff started talking to Freda Freeman-Jackson about a potential matchup between their programs.
“Obviously, we needed some more games, and ... it’s different and unique and special to be a part of what Bianca and coach Jackson will be a part of tomorrow,” Staley said. “We always like to take our players back home ... and now her mom and her dad will get to watch her play.”
Staley and Freeman-Jackson struck an agreement to play three games against each other – twice at Colonial Life Arena and once in Montgomery, Alabama. And this August, when South Carolina released its nonconference schedule, Alabama State was right there on Nov. 10, the first game of the regular season.
“I haven’t thought about it that much,” Bianca Jackson said. “I’m just trying to prepare, get as prepared as I can, but of course, we’ve been talking about it, me and my family, and we’re excited about it.”
Jackson, a 5-foot-10 guard who sometimes slides down to play small forward, had two rebounds and two assists during South Carolina’s exhibition win against Coker last Friday. She said she will have not just her mother on the opposing sideline Friday, but plenty of other family members in the stands, too.
Because Jackson grew up playing and practicing with members of Alabama State’s program, Staley thinks the Hornets will have a slight advantage on her Friday just because of their familiarity with each other, but added that she hasn’t asked Jackson for help scouting their opponent.
“We don’t like to put them in those situations. They’re a new team. ... It doesn’t matter what they do, it’s all about us,” Staley said.
Still, Staley said any advantage Alabama State has over Jackson will likely be countered by her added excitement and focus on the matchup.
“She had a little extra juice in her (in practice). I think she’ll be excited. I think she’s going to want to make her mother proud,” Staley said.
Gamecock fan essentials
Who: Alabama State, finished last season with a 14-16 record, 12-6 in SWAC play
Where: Colonial Life Arena
When: Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Friday, national championship banner and SEC championship ring ceremony at 6:30 p.m., tipoff at 7 p.m.
Watch: No TV broadcast, but streaming digitally through SEC Network Plus via the WatchESPN app, including the banner-raising
Their key player: Junior 6-foot-3 center Tatyana Calhoun, named to SWAC’s preseason all-conference team, averaged 4.9 points and 4.0 rebounds last season
History: This is the first matchup.