During her playing career, Janai Jackson experienced a large amount of success at both Riverdale Baptist School and Johnson C. Smith University (N.C.).
Now, as a first-year girls basketball coach at High Point High School, Jackson is trying to teach other aspiring basketball players how to succeed in a program that has enjoyed little success over the years — the team’s last and only trip to the state tournament came in 1974.
“It has been a tough transition having a winning background,” Jackson said. “Since I’ve been young, I’ve been a part of winning teams in high school to college. I know this part of Prince George’s County doesn’t produce powerhouse basketball programs, but it was kind of a shock to see where the level of basketball is.”
That transition was eased somewhat for Jackson by starting her coaching and physical education teaching career at Buck Lodge Middle School, but it is completely counter to what she experienced at Riverdale Baptist because of the difficulty to accumulate wins. While playing for current George Washington University assistant coach Diane Richardson, the Crusaders and Jackson compiled back-to-back 30-win seasons in her junior and senior seasons.
Jackson, a Bowie native, also helped lead Johnson C. Smith to the program’s first Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title and a 20-11 record as a senior in 2009.
“I’m thrilled she’s a coach,” Richardson said. “I’m very proud of her. She’s one of the first kids I recruited when I was at Riverdale [and it was] for her passion for the game, She worked hard. She had a great shot and she enjoyed learning. That’s what thrilled me. She was like a sponge when she was practicing.”
After recovering quickly from her initial shock of the level of play at High Point, Jackson said she has really stressed the fundamentals of the game this season as well as the importance of doing well in the classroom. Grades have improved, but the Eagles are just 1-14 on the floor.
“Although we haven’t been very successful on the court, the girls have grown and matured,” Jackson said. “They’ve learned a lot about life and a lot of girls have improved in several of their classes in terms of a whole letter grade ... with study hall. It’s been a year for building the foundation and changing the culture, creating the environment on how to have a work ethic and to not give up and not be afraid of success.”
High Point’s lone win came Jan. 15 against Oxon Hill.
“It’s really been different because it’s a whole new team and everyone started from the bottom and had to work their way up,” High Point captain Fatoumata Camara said. “I think things are going in the right direction. Everybody is on the right track and being on the same page.
“Coach Jackson, she loves basketball; everybody is starting to like basketball and everybody is hitting the books now. Study hall is mandatory. Our work is getting done.”