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Athlete of the week: An instinctive Jackson ensures region victory for North Hall boys basketball team
Senior guard recorded steal, iced game from free throw line in closing seconds in 59-56 win against East Hall
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North Hall's Daniel Jackson dribbles past East Hall's TJ Campbell on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 at East Hall High School. - photo by Austin Steele

Daniel Jackson fills a specific role for the North Hall boys basketball team and makes big plays almost every night.

He’s a shooter, leader with ball distribution and catalyst behind the Trojans’ nice turnaround in region play.

Jackson also has the intangible that is impossible to teach.

“Dan’s just a winner,” North Hall coach Tyler Sanders said. “He’s the kind of kid you’ll go to battle with, because of how well he plays the game and, you know, the kind of character he has. He’s the kind of kid you root for.

Last week, Jackson emerged as North Hall’s sparkplug in a pair of region games, the latter coming down to the closing seconds last Friday night against East Hall. The Vikings, after gradually cutting a double-digit deficit down to two points, found themselves in prime position to either tie the game or win it with the ball and seven seconds left.

Jackson shared the same inclination as his teammates the instant before the official handed the ball over and would whistle for play to proceed. In the end, he would be the one to deny the Vikings a victory.

Jackson intercepted the in-bounds pass intended for East Hall’s Jayvion Rucker the seconds to follow, also absorbing contact and made one of two free-throw attempts to preserve the 59-56 region win for North Hall.

“(Jay) is one of their tallest players. We figured the ball might go to him,” Jackson recalled of the moment. “But we all just matched up against a man, and I just happened to make a play on the ball.”

The clutch play capped off a standout performance for Jackson, who paced the Trojans with 18 points — eight of which coming in the fourth quarter — a pair of steals and sunk 6 of 8 from the charity stripe inside the final two minutes Friday. Sanders said Jackson’s instinctive action wasn’t anything drawn up on the sideline either. It was “Dan being Dan.” 

For his efforts, Jackson is the Times Athlete of the Week.

“He was in a situation where he wanted the ball, he wanted to be the one to shoot the free throws at the end of the game,” Sanders added.

“At the same time, he’ll be the first to tell you, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about us.’ He was just thrilled to celebrate with his teammates to get the win.”

Friday’s win was the second region victory for North Hall last week, lifting it above the .500 mark in region play and put Sanders squad in a tie for third in the 7-3A with East Hall for the time being. It’s a spot Sanders gladly takes with region unbeaten Greater Atlanta Christian and third-ranked Dawson County (15-3, 6-1) inhabiting the top-two spots.

“We’ve been working so hard all-year long, so we knew that it was a real big game,” said Jackson, who previously tallied 14 points in a win against Cherokee Bluff on Jan. 8. “We were just thankful to get the win there, against a great team. With all the support we had too, it was just a great night.”

Despite managing just three points during Saturday’s 53-46 win against Chestatee, Jackson still contributed in other ways to help North Hall to its fourth straight victory since its Lanierland loss on Dec. 29, 2018. Luke Gunter also notched a career-high 21 points for the Trojans over the weekend.

Sanders and Jackson can agree that North Hall has found a groove at the most opportune time, especially on the defensive side. During that stretch, the Trojans have held opponents to under 60 points.

“It’s big,” Sanders said of the turnaround. “We talked about it a lot. Nine of our varsity players are also key players on our football team…. These guys didn’t really touch a basketball until the week of Thanksgiving. The last two or three weeks they’ve been getting into a rhythm — a basketball rhythm.

“We rely on how good we can play defense. ... I think that’s really shown our last four games. … That’s four capable teams we’ve held under 60 points…. That’s big.”

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