by Shelby Hodges, lead intern
Most people know Ray Jackson as a basketball phenom from the University of Michigan’s Fab Five.
He’s also known as the only one of the group that didn’t go on to the NBA.
Now, at the age of 41, Jackson is known in Central Texas as a mentor, community leader and father.
Jackson and his teammates Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber and Jimmy King all came to Ann Arbor as freshmen in 1991. They were a sports sensation that captured the country as they reached the Final Four both in ‘92 and ‘93. Jackson and King were the only two who stayed to complete their senior year and Jackson ended up in the Continental Basketball Association the following year.
Before making history as a Wolverine, the combo guard graduated from LBJ High School in Austin. He moved back more than 10 years ago and in 2005, he created the Rising Stars Academic and Athletic program.
The non-profit organization uses basketball and educational opportunities to improve the lives of kids in the Austin and Central Texas area. Jackson started the group with a childhood friend and it has grown into a thriving AAU program with teams in multiple age groups.
“My main goal is to teach life skills to these kids,” Jackson said, “and show them that the things they learn on the court translate to the classroom, the workforce or what have you.”
Their program emphasizes academics over athletics because Jackson knows from personal experience how short-lived most sports careers can be.
“You can only play basketball on average until maybe 27, so what are you going to do after that?” He said. “I don’t care if they never pick up a basketball again. Just graduate, get an education and be a productive part of your community, that’s what makes me happy.”
Of the original youngsters who started with the Rising Stars, many have gone on to play college basketball and football, compete overseas, receive master’s degrees and even coach. Jackson said he fully supports any of the players that want to play at a professional level and the best advice he can give them is to be intelligent and work hard.
“It starts academically, that’s what I tell my older teams,” he said. “Be focused, show up for school and pursue any extra work you need, even if that means getting some help. And then you have to put in the work on and off the court….your body is your business so treat it right, but know that it’s a process that you have to continuously do.”
The husband and father of three also stressed the importance of believing in yourself. From having faced difficulties and uncertainty during his time at Michigan, Jackson said perseverance is the most important thing he learned, and that you can never lack confidence in yourself and you always have to continue to fight.
These are the lessons Jackson and his wife Cynthia hope to teach their son. Tré Jackson currently plays on the Rising Stars 3rd grade team, which is coached by two of Jackson’s former high school teammates. Their sons also play on the team.
“I also really want to promote black men and get them back involved,” Jackson said. “In our community we have a lot of lost dads, so to finally start having teams with father’s involved, it sets a great example for these kids and the community we represent.”
Jackson said he tries to stay out of the coaching position when it comes to his son and instead keeps to the sideline. He mostly works with the kids of Rising Stars during their practices. But Jackson is always available for advice and moral support and still has weekly phone calls with some of his former players.
As he watched his team play from the stands, he spoke passionately about wanting to affect their lives in the most positive ways possible. And while he loves the game of basketball he was more concerned with the futures they could have.
“We try to expose these kids,” Jackson said. “We have so many that have never been on planes or ever left the city, so we want them to open their minds to bigger and better things. And I just want them to learn that knowledge and wisdom is power.”