Darnell Jackson is back. He'll tell you so himself.
"I'm ready, man," a smiling Jackson said. "I'm ready to go out there."
In the last few weeks, that hasn't always been the case for Kansas University's sophomore forward. The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder recently has struggled with his health, beginning Feb. 13 after playing five minutes against Oklahoma State.
"When we came back from OSU, I was having really bad stomach pains. I couldn't eat," Jackson said. "They tried to put IVs in me, but my veins were too dry. They couldn't get anything out of them."
Even with the illness, Jackson battled through.
In fact, Kansas fans probably couldn't tell the forward was having difficulties at all as he played 20 minutes against Baylor on Feb. 21, scoring 11 points.
"I was practicing through it," Jackson said. "It was just a lot of pain."
On March 1, it became too much. Jackson did not practice for or play against Colorado on Senior Night.
The forward has gained strength since then, saying he is now 100 percent after a 15-minute performance against Kansas State on Saturday. He's hoping to contribute greatly during KU's Big 12 tournament run in Dallas. The Jayhawks open tourney play at 6 p.m. Friday in the American Airlines Center against the winner of today's 6 p.m. contest between Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
The latest setback has been just one of many for Jackson, who has dealt with his grandmother's death and a nine-game suspension already this season.
"I just come out and try to always find a way to get through it," Jackson said. "I'm just trying to get focused and get my mind right to go out there and play hard."
Jackson's mother, Shawn, is also making it through. After sustaining serious injuries in the same car accident that killed her mother, Evon, Shawn will be attending the Big 12 tournament to be around her son, though she will not be attending the games because it would require excessive walking.
"She's doing good," Jackson said. "She's supposed to have surgery, but she said she's not going to do it."
After breaking a bone in her leg in the crash, Shawn has been able to get around with the aid of a boot. Surgery, however, would require her to be off her feet for up to 18 months.
Still, Jackson has been amazed at his mother's ability to make ends meet.
"She's still not working, but she's making it," Jackson said. "She's got all the bills paid, and she's doing it without working."
Using child support and help from family members, Shawn has been able to survive.
Even with his latest obstacles, Jackson expects nothing less from himself.
"It's set me back just a little bit, but I'm not worrying about it," Jackson said. "I'm going to come back strong."
KU coach Bill Self is hoping for rejuvenated play not only from Jackson, but also from the Jayhawks' other big men, including Sasha Kaun and C.J. Giles.
Kaun did not score and had just one rebound while playing 11 minutes in Saturday's 66-52 victory at Kansas State. He hasn't had a double-digit scoring game since a 12-point outing Feb. 13 at Oklahoma State. Kaun has hit eight of 16 shots in KU's last five games, good for 21 points and 21 rebounds. Giles had 11 points in KU's 75-54 home victory against Colorado on March 1, but missed five of six shots and scored three points with five boards in 17 minutes at Kansas State.
"Our big guys need to be a post presence," Self said, including Jackson, Julian Wright and Christian Moody in the big-man group. "They've done fine defensively. We need Sasha to be a presence and rebound the ball. C.J. has done a much better job being a presence and rebounding the ball."