By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
It’s early in the basketball season, but Mari Jackson’s beginning to make a name for herself.
She’s already known around the court as something else.
As the girls leave the court win or lose tonight at Sand Springs, the senior will pass her nephew coming out with the boys: junior Tramal Ivy. The girls’ game tips off at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by the boys’ contest.
“Other kids who know us think we’re like brother and sister, which is kind of the way we act with one another,” Jackson said.
Ivy’s mom, Treyonda Ivy, is Jackson’s older sister, 16 years her senior.
The bloodline speaks through their skill sets. The 5-foot-10 Jackson is primarily a post player for Muskogee. That’s also where Ivy, a bit taller at 6-5, plays. The difference is that Jackson was asked to step into that role after sitting out a year following her transfer from Chicago’s Bogan High School, where she came off the bench for the varsity for two seasons.
“In Chicago I was a two-guard or three-forward because up there we had more than our share of big girls,” she said. “So that’s where I felt most comfortable when I got here.”
But when she got here and became eligible, the biggest need on a team coming off its first state tournament appearance since 2001 was inside, where two starters (Coco Epps and Chelsie Keys) and a key player off the bench (Deanna Moore), all 6-1 to 6-5, had graduated. Muskogee coach Doyle Rowland suggested she focus there.
“Learning post moves and crashing the boards was new,” she said. “But I kind of liked it better.”
Rowland found a fit in her.
“She’s got a 20-inch vertical and her range is unlimited,” Rowland said. “She can fit inside or outside in three or four spots and she’s a pretty good ball handler. But the thing I like most of all is her tenacity and her willingness to work hard.
“I told her I wanted her to come in and fill that void. Now she’s a different player than either (Chelsie and Darryl). Chelsie is 1/ 1/2 inches taller, but Mari’s range is better than Chelsie’s. Chelsie’s better inside because of her experience but Mari’s in here learning and working hard all the time and she practiced against both while on the JV last year and through that learned how to be physical. Darryl may be better physically but Mari can take it to the outside better.”
Jackson has also found a fit in Muskogee, where she doesn’t have to find a city bus to take her home after practice in the inner-city Chicago neighborhood she lived in.
“Practices were later there, after school, and getting home always stressed out my mom,” Jackson said. “I was also a little more focused on my social life there whereas here, I’m more about basketball.”
Jackson heads to Sand Springs tonight averaging 9.7 points and 8.5 rebounds, including a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) against Oklahoma City Southeast in the first round of the Tahlequah tournament last week. She had 13 points and nine rebounds in Saturday’s championship win over Tahlequah, No. 7 in the Okrankings.com Class 5A poll, playing part of that on the wing as MHS moved to 3-1.
“I’ve still got work to do. I know I’m going to see bigger girls from Jenks and Union who are going to look at me as someone they can throw around and I have to get better on boxing out, the little things,” she said. “Nobody’s ever perfect, so there’s always going to be work out there for me to do.”
And there’s always her nephew to offer her some tips or perhaps go one-on-one with her on the court during spare time.
After all, it’s Auntie Mari.
“I have fun with it and he doesn’t seem to mind it,” she said. “Like we’ll be in the cafeteria and he might ask me for a dollar to go buy some juice and I’ll tell him to give his auntie a hug and a kiss or tell her you love her, right there in front of everybody. And he’ll do it.”
Four area teams are perfect after the first weeklong tournament action and three call themselves Tigers.
Fort Gibson’s girls are 6-0 after winning the Jerry Oquin Tournament in Inola for a third straight year, beating Verdigris 49-43.
“I’ve been pleased. We’ve really battled through our lack of game experience with this group so far,” FGHS coach Jerry Walker said. “You take the three starters we lost (from two state finals appearances and a 2011 state title) and that in itself may not seem like a great deal except when you realize that those three have been heavily involved in our program for a long part of their careers,” he said. “Add all that up and you lose so much game experience. We’ve got a lot of ability in this group, just not the game experience.
Oktaha’s girls (No. 4 in 2A) continued their dominance of the Crowder Invitational, winning for the ninth time in at least 10 years and fourth in a row to move to 7-0. Frankly, coach Chester Pittman’s team has found tournament play to their liking for some time, winning all but four tournaments up to the state tourney week since 2003.
“We’re playing real well together with a lot of young kids blending in well,” Pittman said of his squad, which lost two full-time and a third part-time starter from a once-beaten quarterfinalist in 2A.
The 70-47 win over Wilburton helped them keep pace with their male counterparts, also 7-0 after a winning the tournament. The boys lost a rare event in Crowder two seasons ago. The Tiger boys (No. 2 in 2A) rallied from 12 points down at the half to beat Tushka 48-40 in the finals.
Also, Hulbert’s girls are 5-0 after putting the clamps on Oaks, 39-29 to win the Greenleaf Invitational in Porum.