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Friday, January 27, 2006

Straight from the heart

Jackson proud to honor loved ones with chest-bumping gesture

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Darnell Jackson tapped his chest with a clenched fist three times after swishing his sixth free throw Wednesday night at Texas A&M.

Jackson, whose 12 points and nine rebounds helped the Kansas University men's basketball squad earn an 83-73 victory over the Aggies, explained the heart thumping was a personal message to three individuals.

"One for my grandmom, one for my mom, and one for Don Davis," Jackson said.

Jackson said he planned to continue his free-throw encore the rest of the season after all makes.

"I do it to let 'em know I love them," Jackson said. "If they are watching the game, they know they are in my heart."

Jackson's grandmother, Evon, died in a car wreck last spring in Las Vegas - a wreck in which Darnell's mom, Shawn, sustained several broken bones in her legs and arms that have required several surgeries, the last in December.

Davis is a 1979 KU graduate from Edmond, Okla., who has been a father figure to Jackson, a native of Midwest City, Okla., the past several years.

"Darnell is a beautiful soul. He's always had a beautiful spirit," Shawn Jackson said from her home in Midwest City, where she is suffering from chronic pain. She said some days she felt less pain than others.

"I'm very proud of him," she said. "My family is proud of him.

We've had a cloud over our family. He is bringing a light."

Shawn was unable to catch the A&M game on TV, but she got cell-phone updates from Darnell's girlfriend.

"She was giving me play-by-play. I was so excited when I heard Darnell had 11 points at halftime," Shawn said. "He's still playing so well with a lot of stuff on his mind.

"This has all been so hard for me. It's so hard for him. My mom was like his mother. You must realize, I had Darnell when I was 16. With her gone and what I'm going through mentally and physically ... I thank the Lord he is doing so well. He may not finish on top of all the statistical categories at KU, but he will go down in history one of the beautiful men who played for KU."

Jackson served a nine-game suspension to start the season for accepting $5,000 worth of benefits from Davis. Since Jackson's return in Game 10, he's averaged 7.6 points and 5.4 boards and helped KU win seven of nine games.

He's also made 50 percent of his shots and 75 percent of his free throws - charities that, when made, include his gracious, emotional gesture.

"Isn't he a sweet kid? It almost brings me to tears," Davis said of Jackson's act of pounding the skin that covers his heart. "He is such a wonderful young man. For him to do that ... he has a lot of people he cares about and wants them to know how he feels. I think it's absolutely wonderful."

Jackson's play has been so productive, it's made some wonder if he'll be thrust into a starting spot.

"I'm happy with my role. I've been here nine games. I don't feel comfortable coming in and messing up the rotation," Jackson said. "I'm fine with this. The guys are playing well. When it's time for me to go in, I stick to my role of rebounding and playing defense."

Jackson, who hit 58.3 percent of his charities and 54.8 percent of his floor shots last season, has extended his range. He's shown a nice touch on medium-range shots to go with his vicious slams.

"Coach (Tim) Jankovich and coach (Danny) Manning have helped me in individual workouts, just working on my shot every day," Jackson said. "Shoot until it wears you out. You have to shoot when you are tired. It helps."

Only time will help Darnell and his mom, who are battling the effects of the accident - one that apparently could have been avoided.

Reportedly the driver of the car that hit Shawn Jackson's vehicle was intoxicated. Jackson's mom has been told the individual responsible for the wreck would be tried in Las Vegas on 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter in the first degree, reckless endangerment and driving while intoxicated.

"I just want to talk to him. He lives out there," Shawn Jackson said. "I tell people my mom is in a better place, but I think about him and his family. He was 18 at the time of the wreck. He will get time (in prison). I'd like to talk to him, see what was going through his mind. I will tell him I forgive him and pray for him.

"I tell people it could be any one of us (hit by drunk driver)," she said. "If I can't get 1,000 people to wake up from what happened to me there's no reason the Lord let me come back. I tell Darnell, 'You can be a spokesperson, telling people to think about what drinking and driving is.'"

The accident left Shawn with financial and health problems and left her son still highly emotional about the loss of his grandmother.

"I'm waiting for the day he can just go play and not be stressing," said Shawn, who has attended one game and Late Night in the Phog this season. "He wanted to visit me after the surgery in December. I said, 'No. You're not my husband or dad, you are my son. Stay there.' He came anyway. People in the hospital couldn't believe how somebody so big could be so polite. I'm so proud of him.

"I love him so much. He doesn't care what people think (about the chest bumping). He just does what comes from the heart, and that makes him the person he is. He brags on his teammates, never has a bad word to say about anybody. He's not a boy anymore, but a real man."

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