By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
PASADENA – Everything fell on Emoni Jackson’s shoulders before she knew it.
That was not supposed to be the case. The Muir High School sophomore figured to be the third or even fourth cog in the Mustangs’ return to the top of the Pacific League in girls basketball this season. But junior Jordan Jackson was lost for the season before it even started because of a knee injury. Senior Tyler Polk followed with a knee injury that will require surgery later this month.
Suddenly, Emoni Jackson was the “it” girl.
“Emoni has had to take on a big chunk and she’s been responding,” Muir coach Gary Johnson said. “Basically we lost two girls that were supposed to be starters. Without them we’re 22-3 and that is really something to say.
“Back then, we did not think they would be able to key on her every game. We knew Tyler Polk would give us 10 or 12 points inside every game.”
The Mustangs, who did not win the league title for the first time in a decade last season, clinched the championship on Friday with a 64-36 victory over Glendale. They close out the regular season with games today at Crescenta Valley and Thursday against Pasadena. The Bulldogs handed the Mustangs their lone loss in league, 36-34, but then had to forfeit the victory.
“That was our first game where we weren’t in the right mindset,” Emoni Jackson said of the loss. “We missed a lot of free throws and had a lot of turnovers. It woke us up and let us know we can’t messaround.”
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Polk averaged 7.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and Jordan Jackson, who plays guard, averaged 10.2 points and 3.6 assists last season.
This season, Emoni Jackson is averaging a double-double for the second consecutive year. She leads the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game and rebounds at 12.4. She leads the team in blocked shots (26), is second with 1.5 assists per game and has a team-high 2.4 steals per game.
All the while facing double and triple teams.
“I’m not surprised because I know I can do it,” she said of her double-double average. “I’m proud that I’ve been able to score as much as I have. I just have to work harder and keep trying to get better.”
The 6-foot-1, near-A student plays shooting forward for her travelball team, the Cal Sparks. But without Jordan Jackson on the wing and Polk in the middle, she has had to play center and power forward.
“Right now we need her as a (power forward or center),” Johnson said. “If we lose her we’re basically done.
“She’s stronger and we’ve been working on her inside moves. That is one of the biggest things she’s improved on. She’s not falling away. She’s going to the basket harder.
“They’re triple- and double-teaming her and they’re playing zone on us.
“She’s developing her outside shot, but I told her to not do too much because we need her inside.”
Jackson had the “can’t-miss” label at Muir last year.
“She’s one of a kind,” Johnson said. “She gets the double and triple teams and it frustrates her. However, we teach her that’s how it’s going to be the next two years. Get used to it. Wear a mouthpiece.”
Johnson projects her to be a future All-America player, just like 2009 Muir grad Eliza Pierre. She said she already has received at least eight recruiting letters from NCAA Division I programs, including several Pac-12 schools.
“I feel like I have a lot of things to work on just to get better and better and to work on my shooting,” she said. “I’m starting to take smarter shots and making better shot decisions. I need to slow down and pay attention.”
Johnson said he recently has seen improvement in her free-throw shooting.
“She’s worked hard in practice,” he said. “Instead of getting 16 points a game, she’ll be getting 20 because she is hitting her free throws.”
She has a tattoo of sister Autumn and a basketball on the inside wrist of her right arm. Emoni, the oldest of four siblings, was 9 when Autumn, then 5, died of a heart defect. Underneath Emoni’s name is the number 24, signifying Autumn’s April birthday and the jersey number she wears.
“I just think of her,” Jackson said. “That’s why my mom let me get the tattoo. She’s watching over me and making sure that I do the best I can. It’s my inspiration.”
She’s also become an inspiration for her teammates.
“We have strong players and a lot of potential,” she said. “We are all trying to help each other and even though I’m just a sophomore, they listen to me.”