Ex-Duquesne star moves closer to NBA goal

| Tuesday, June 28, 2011

There is rising popularity with hybrid guards in the NBA, those athletic 6-foot-4 types who sometimes play like shooting guards, scoring in clusters, and at other moments resembling classic point guards with their patience and precision.

Chicago's Derrick Rose and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook come to mind.

Although not in their league, former Duquesne star Aaron Jackson is hoping to become part of that backcourt breed by landing a coveted NBA roster spot.

"Everybody who knows me knows that the ultimate goal is to make it to the NBA," said Jackson, 25, the Spanish ACB League rookie for Bizkaia Bilbao Baskets.

The league is regarded as the second best in the world behind only the NBA. Jackson joined former Kansas guard Russell Robinson and former Rhode Island guard Jimmy Baron as the only former U.S. college players to start in the prestigious European circuit in just their second professional season overseas.

Jackson will be entering the final year of a two-year deal with Bizkaia Bilbao Basket. Because of contractual obligations, he is unlikely to sign with an NBA team for next season. Several are showing interest, most notably the Memphis Grizzlies.

In the coming weeks, Jackson is expected to attend a handful of minicamps, despite the looming lockout between players and management. The lockout could wipe out the NBA summer leagues, where Jackson has spent time with the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

"He would have had plenty of opportunities with NBA teams, if not for the lockout," said Sean Davis, a Los Angeles-based agent helping to represent Jackson, who led Bizkaia BIlbao Basket in scoring (11.5 ppg.) while shooting 46.6 percent.

In the Spanish ACB League champion series, Jackson held his own against Ricky Rubio, a former NBA lottery pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves who returned to Spain for two seasons before finally signing this month with the NBA team. Their statistics were similar during the regular season, too.

Dan Barto, a Shaler native and head trainer for renowned basketball academy IMG in Florida, feels Jackson is "NBA ready." Since 2003, Barto has trained more than 100 future NBA players.

"Aaron's biggest asset is he rallies the troops," Barto said. "Others are driven by fame. He's driven by leadership. In Spain, he started out as a spark off the bench; then he became a starter, and not long after that he was the go-to guy."

Bizkaia Bilbao Basket's late-season success boosted Jackson's popularity and made him an overnight sensation in Spain. Recent Internet highlights of Jackson in the league playoffs show a hybrid style of play that sent fans into a frenzy.

"He's sort of a celebrity now," Barto said. "He can't walk down the street without someone approaching him and wanting an autograph."

It is unlikely that Jackson can sign with an NBA team until after his Spanish ACB League contract expires next season.

"If it weren't for contractual arrangements, I'm sure 8 to 10 teams would be after him to compete for that third spot in the backcourt," Barto said following the recent NBA Draft, where two Spanish ACB League players -- Fuenlabrada's Bismack Biyombo (Sacramento) and Real Madrid's Nikola Mirotic (Houston) -- were chosen.

"Teams in the NBA understand who he is," said Davis, the agent who works under his firm's lead agent, Happy Walters. "He pretty much has this summer off, but if not for a lockout year, he'd be playing in a summer league. He'll get in and out of IMG, and then Aug. 22, it's back to Spain."

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