Reality Check for Purdue Fans: Why Lewis Jackson's Return Is Overrated

Tim CarySenior Analyst IFebruary 2, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 15:  Lewis Jackson #23 of the Purdue Boilermakers brings the ball up court against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the final of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 15, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Purdue Boilermakers have their sights set on a Big Ten championship and a Final Four berth down the road in Indianapolis.

And if you believe the media and the message boards, the last missing piece the Boilers need to accomplish those goals is finally in place.

Now that Purdue once again has the services of sophomore point guard Lewis Jackson, who missed the season's first 19 games with a foot injury, everything will be hunky-dory in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Or so they say.

While Jackson's return does give Purdue added depth, an extra ball handler, and some tournament experience (LewJack started on last year's Sweet Sixteen team as a true freshman), I would caution Boilermakers fans not to assume the point guard is an instant savior.

If anything, I'm concerned that Old Gold and Black supporters have elevated Jackson's importance and skills in their minds while he's sat on the sidelines in street clothes.

You know what I'm talking about: "absence makes the heart grow fonder".

Well, in this case, maybe a little bit too fond.

(Lewis Jackson: the man, the myth, the...legend?)

Don't misunderstand me: I'm excited that LewJack is back and playing, and getting the speedy sophomore back on the floor weeks ahead of the most optimistic estimates will allow him to knock off some rust before the games that really matter in March.

However, let's not assign Jackson gifts and talents he doesn't possess.

We're talking about a player with one year of experience in college basketball that averaged a pedestrian 5.9 points and 3.3 assists per game.

(Boilermakers fans, if you're scoring at home, that's right about Chris Kramer's scoring average. You remember Kramer, the defensive stopper that everyone considers an offensive liability.)

Lewis Jackson has above-average speed, a below-average jump shot (he only made 11 three-pointers all year as a freshman), and is generously listed in the Purdue media guide as 5'9", which means every opponent looks forward to the chance to isolate the diminutive Jackson on the block defensively.

Again, let me be clear. With Jackson, Purdue is a better basketball team. Their Final Four prospects improve. However, not as much as the prone-to-exaggeration media members and starry-eyed fans are telling you.


Jackson is not a one-man press break. Purdue struggled against presses with Jackson on the floor last year, so he won't solve all their problems in that area instantly now.

He is not the Big Ten's best ball handler or fastest guard. (I'd argue that he wasn't one of Purdue's top three guards last year, since Kramer, Keaton Grant, and E'Twaun Moore all played more minutes.)

I've heard each of these glowing compliments and more over the past few months, and frankly it's starting to get silly. If Jackson was out any longer, I halfway expected to hear that he was 6'9" instead of 5'9", with the way everything else about him has been growing by leaps and bounds in people's minds!)

LewJack is a solid decision-maker at point guard with the ability to get around defenders on the perimeter and take the ball to the rim. No. 23 gives Purdue some speed it couldn't replicate anywhere else on the roster, and make no mistake, he makes the Boilermakers a better basketball team.

But he's not Michael Jordan.

He's not even E'Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, or JaJuan Johnson.

So don't expect a great basketball team (16-3 without Jackson) to become All-World simply because its shortest player has exchanged his seat on the bench for a role in the rotation.

If anything, Jackson's presence on the floor gives opposing coaches another defender (along with Kramer's) that they can use to harass Johnson on the block and bog down the Boilermakers' offense. Don't be surprised to see JJ facing triple-teams because opponents have no respect for the outside jumper of Jackson or Kramer, so those defenders can sag off as far as needed to protect the paint.

On the flip side, the Boilers' bread and butter is their intense man-to-man defense, and a fresh Jackson could be a significant upgrade on that end of the floor.

So yes, coach Matt Painter and Boilermaker Nation are happy to have their point guard back.

But please, folks...let's be realistic.

He's still Lewis Jackson.