Ron Jackson has the quintessential underdog basketball origin story.
At Fleming Island High school 35 miles southwest of Jacksonville, Florida, he failed to make the varsity team as a junior before eventually cracking the roster as a senior following a heartfelt conversation with his grandmother where he promised that he would ascend to the professional level.
But despite achieving that goal, Jackson left the prep ranks without a college offer. That meant, if he wanted to keep his basketball dream alive, he needed to prove himself all over again.
So he walked on at Hillsborough Community College in nearby Tampa and spent the next three years on the grind before landing at North Carolina A&T where earned All-MEAC honors as a senior in 2020.
Today, Jackson finds himself in the familiar position of having to yet again set the record straight about his basketball ability, though this time with a bit of historical significance in tow.
For the first time in The Basketball Tournament’s eight-year history, a team composed entirely of players from HBCUs will compete for the event’s $1 million prizes against former Division I and pro talent.
Eleven players, including Jackson, will represent eight HBCUs for team HBCUnited, organized, and coached by current Howard assistant Jake Brown.
“It’s a blessing and a privilege to be one of the select few to represent something bigger than me,” said Jackson about playing in TBT. “HBCUs are really getting a lot of attention right now and it’s powerful.”
Notable players on the roster include CJ Williams (Howard), the MEAC’s all-time leading scorer, Jermaine Marrow (Hampton), Hampton’s all-time leading scorer and 27th on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list, and Cletrell Pope (Bethune-Cookman), back-to-back MEAC Defensive Player of the Year.
HBCUnited will be the No. 13 seed competing in the West Virginia Regional, with their first game against No. 4 seed Armored Athlete today at 2 p.m. EST on ESPN2.
“These are some of the greatest players ever to play in HBCU college history and to be part of this is a very humbling experience,” said former Coppin State swingman Lamar Morgan. “In the basketball world, HBCUs are overlooked and so are our abilities as players. It is our opportunity to show that HBCUs produce very good players and that we deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Like the majority of his teammates, Morgan has bounced around the professional ranks overseas and elsewhere trying to make a name for himself. A good showing on a stage like this could go a long way in elevating his career.
“I absolutely believe someday my time will come,” said Morgan, who previously played for Maia Basket in Portugal. I’m very patient. I trust in God and believe he has the right path for me. I believe it is going come someday.”
For Rob Colon, who was a CIAA Tournament MVP Colon a season ago at Winston-Salem State, the motivation is not only to win the TBT but to uplift Black colleges in the process.
“I feel like the kids in high schools are going to be looking at HBCUs,” he said. “There have been conversations about in recent months about what would it look like if kids went to HBCUs rather than going to Duke, North Carolina or schools like that.
“If we win, it will bring a lot of awareness for those kids and future generations after.”