Welcome back to SZN Opener, CASSIUS’ sports podcast that focuses on the unique journeys of Black student athletes.
In this episode, Duke Blue Devils guard Ashlon Jackson illustrates the mental resilience that goes hand in hand with being a student-athlete. Raised by coaches, Jackson played ball from a young age in small-town Texas. “I was born with the ball in my hand,” she says. “That first love, you will never forget it.”
The 2022 McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant received her first offer in the seventh grade. She describes what it was like to commit to basketball from a young age. “It’s full throttle. If you’re not focused, if you don’t handle adversity well, you’re going to struggle within anything that you do. But if you love it enough, then everything is worth it,” she says. “I know God came first, my family, then grades, and then ball. Those are my priorities… I’m going to try to better myself within my game, because I know that’s what’s going to take me a long way.”
At Hardin-Jefferson High School, Jackson led her team to three consecutive state tournament appearances. In her junior season, Hardin-Jefferson maintained a 29-1 record but lost in the state championship by one point. Jackson describes what it was like to lose in the final game of the season, and the important lesson that came with it. “We didn’t take it lightly, but in our minds we had the game won already… We would preach ‘one game at a time,’ but you get so greedy, you get so hungry,” she says. “That was the reason why we lost. They weren’t better than us, we just crashed and burned within ourselves.”
In Jackson’s senior year, Hardin-Jefferson reached state and lost by one point—again. “We didn’t execute the game plan. They ended up taking that from us. That one was a hard one. Especially because it was my last time being there,” she says. “I didn’t even want to win it for myself… I wanted the girls to have it, because I know what my coach has been through to get there… Since I couldn’t get that, I took that one to the chin, it was like a failure to me. But I realized that they learned more from me than just that.”
Despite experiencing those losses, Jackson receives the lesson and continues to push forward. “I know that’s not my ceiling. I know that within me being this great athlete, or me being this great person, I know there’s going to be several failures. I know what you do after that failure is what shapes you,” she says. “Learning from my losses and learning from mistakes, that’s what’s going to help me get to the top.”
Jackson also shares how Duke coach Kara Lawson impacted her growth as a student-athlete, and how she decided on going to Duke. “She knows that you’re so much better than what you think. That’s what I wanted,” she says. “I thought my decision would be hard, but when you know, you know.”
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