by Dan Stroud
This was it! For UMKC hoops star Michael Jackson, the 1999-00 basketball season was a special one. In his sophomore season, Jackson became the first and only Kangaroo ever to win the Mid-Continent Conference Newcomer and Player of the Year awards in the same season.
But the big man had no way of knowing that offensively, this would be his greatest collegiate season. The winds of change would alter his NCAA career in the years that followed.
After that season the 'Roos would go from a triangle offensive system under then head coach Bob Sundvold, to a more disciplined defensive scheme. The new head coach during the 2000-01 season, Dean Demopoulos, brought a smothering zone package to Kansas City that would place UMKC's team among the stingiest defenses in the nation.
It was a system that Demopoulos had learned as an assistant at Temple University under zone wizard John Chaney. Though the system kept the 'Roos in most games, it also stifled Jackson's offensive gifts.
"I really loved the triangle offense," Jackson said. "It was perfectly suited for my game. But things change and you learn to adapt to the opportunities you're given."
Making his career improvement that much more difficult, Demopoulos left for the NBA after the season and Rich Zvosec became the Kangaroo squad's third head man in four years.
But despite the coaching carousel, Jackson still managed to amass the fourth most points (1,443), fifth most steals (124) and the most blocks (138) in a career at UMKC. During those three years he also managed to attain all-conference recognition for his efforts whether it was for excellence on offense or defense.
Despite his admitted aversion to the classroom, Jackson speaks fondly of a coaching staff that firmly pushed him down the path toward his degree. One assistant in particular comes to mind.
"I didn't particularly like going to class," said Jackson. "But I can tell you Jay Byland was there every day, hovering over me, making sure I did what was expected. I didn't much appreciate it then, but now I can honestly say there was great benefit."
The Kangaroo star's memories of college life circa Kansas City also included a great deal of camaraderie with his teammates. A self-proclaimed home body, he recalled many nights spent in his apartment playing video games.
"We were pretty hard core," he said. "Marcus (Golson) and I were always playing if we weren't on the court or in the classroom."
Jackson finished college and started a five year tour playing professional basketball overseas in Spain, England, Israel, and enjoyed two especially well remembered years in Japan.
"Along with the cultural aspects, there were two specific things that the Japanese league handled in a first class manner at the time [2005-07]," he said. "For one thing, the organization always paid us on time (evidently a rare occurrence) and they always paid us in full. The nightlife was pretty good over there as well. Those were some good times."
Today "Mike Jackson" is beginning work on an accounting career. Accreditation as a Certified Public Accountant, a task not easily accomplished, has become a long term goal.
To the players on this year's men's basketball squad Jackson eagerly offers this sage advice.
"Make sure you make the most of that free education, and get to class," he said laughing. "That way you get your four years to play ball and you can keep the coaches happy and get your degree!"
The UMKC Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place on Jan. 22 at the Downtown Marriott in Kansas City.
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