Former Desert Pines star torches D-League with eye on NBA

Pierre Jackson finally made it to New Orleans.

But his stay figures to be a brief one.

The 5-foot-11-inch former Desert Pines High School star guard took a circuitous route to get to today’s NBA Development League All-Star Game, which is part of the NBA All-Star festivities this weekend in New Orleans.

Jackson, the D-League’s second-leading scorer at 29.1 points a game, will represent the Idaho Stampede in the event, which will be televised by NBA TV (Channel 318) at noon.

“I’m going to have fun with it,” Jackson said. “I think the fans in New Orleans want to see me play.”

They were hoping to see him sooner. After leading Baylor to the National Invitation Tournament championship last spring, Jackson was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia 76ers and promptly traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. And that’s where his odyssey began.

He returned to Las Vegas in early July amid much fanfare to play in the NBA Summer League. It included a visit to his high school gym, where his No. 55 is retired.

But the celebration became muted. Jackson struggled on the floor, and his numbers waned — 11 points and six assists. He also contracted a case of pinkeye in his left eye during the summer league and had to quit playing.

The Pelicans, who had a guard-heavy roster, didn’t invite Jackson to camp. In early August, he signed with ASVEL Villeurbanne in France but never played a game overseas. His grandmother became ill in Las Vegas, and he left Europe to be with his family.

But Jackson got excited when he was taken by Idaho in the D-League draft in October. He was familiar with the area, having won a national junior college title at College of Southern Idaho before going to Baylor.

“I saw it as an opportunity to get back” to the NBA, Jackson said. “But the D-League is tough. It’s a grind. You’re playing against really good players, and everyone’s chasing the same dream. But you’ve got to be professional about it. I had confidence in myself, and I know I should be in the NBA.”

Jackson immediately produced for Idaho, scoring 29 points in the first game. He would score 30 or more points 14 times. He also was a member of the D-League All-Showcase team in Reno last month after scoring 61 points in two games.

“He’s been great to coach,” said coach Mike Peck, who coached against Jackson when he was the coach at Findlay Prep. “From a competitive standpoint, he’s right there with anyone I’ve ever coached.”

Then came Feb. 4. The Stampede were facing Texas, and the game started like any other high-scoring D-League game. Jackson was part of it, to be sure. But as the game progressed, it seemed as if every shot of his was falling.

“He can get baskets in droves,” Peck said. “If you look at Pierre’s numbers, he’s a very efficient shooter.”

By the fourth quarter, Jackson’s teammates knew they were witnessing something special. And when the final buzzer sounded, he had 58 points and the D-League’s single-game scoring record on 24-of-33 shooting, including 7 of 13 on 3-point attempts. He also had eight assists and six rebounds.

“I can’t really explain it,” Jackson said. “It was one of those nights where the shots were falling.”

Still, despite his achievements this season, Jackson won’t be apartment hunting in New Orleans this weekend. The Pelicans still own his NBA rights, and Jackson’s agent, Colin Bryant, can’t convince New Orleans general manager Dell Demps to trade or release Jackson so another NBA team can sign him.

Jackson admitted it’s frustrating, but he’s not dwelling on it.

“I told my agent if it’s not big news, then leave me out of it,” Jackson said. “I’m just focusing on playing in Idaho, going with the flow and trying to help us win.”

So even if he plays well today, Jackson probably will be back with the Stampede, who play Wednesday in Boise against Maine. But Peck said he doesn’t expect to be coaching Jackson much longer.

“I believe before the season is over Pierre Jackson will be in an NBA uniform somewhere,” Peck said. “He’s not just a scorer. He does a lot of things well, and he can help someone.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at 702-387-2913 or scarp@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @stevecarprj.

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