Lady Warrior Tiana Joy Jackson Accepts Scholarship To Play Basketball At UIC

FHS Lady Warrior Tiana Joy Jackson, far right, has accepted a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Illinois – Chicago. Pictured is her family, from left, sister Jasmine, father Walter, sister Chloe and mother, Catina.

In the end, it came down to a water balloon fight.

Tiana Joy Jackson, part of two Franklin High School Lady Warrior state Tournament of Champions championship basketball teams, was actually struggling late in the summer with the decision of whether she wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to play college basketball.

Jackson, a point guard who graduated FHS in June, had only days to decide if she would accept the offer of a full scholarship made by the University of Illinois – Chicago, or stay with the plan upon which she had settled: going to Virginia State University and not playing basketball.

It was a classic head/heart conflict, she said, and it literally kept her up at night: her head was telling her to accept the scholarship, but her heart was telling her to honor her commitment to VSU to attend there.

Jackson finally on August 4 decided to accept UIC’s offer, but not until, she said, her heart signed on to the plan.

Jackson went through the recruitment process during her senior year and in the start of the summer, but, she said, nothing materialized for her.

“For months, the recruiting process was just going downhill,” she said. “Things weren’t working.”

Jackson finally settled on the notion that her basketball career would end with the historic undefeated season posted by the Lady Warriors in 2018-19, and that she would be attending VSU, an Historically Black College.

That HBCU designation was important to her, Jackson said, because her parents, Walter and Catina, and other family members had attended HBCUs, and, she said, she wanted to continue the tradition.

She was admitted to VSU’s business school’s honors college, she had met some of her fellow students, and she had made peace with the fact that her basketball days were over, she said.

“My slogan was, “more than basketball,” she said.

Then fate entered in the form of her FHS coach, Audrey Taylor.

At Jackson’s graduation party, Taylor took her former player aside and told her that UIC Coach Tasha Pointer – a Rutgers Lady Knight Hall of Famer – was interested in giving her a scholarship to play for her.

“I was speechless,” she said.

Jackson said her first inclination was to decline the offer; she’d already set her sights on VSU.

“For the past month it was me dealing with the decision of, OK, I’m not playing basketball, coping with that, trying to come to terms with that,” she said. “Basketball was literally the last thing on my mind.”

“Now my coach is telling me I have an opportunity to go to Chicago to play basketball under Coach Pointer,” she said.

After thinking about it for a while, Jackson said, she decided to explore the UIC campus and speak with the players and coaches.

“I told myself, you need to make an informed decision, you need to at least visit the school and see what it’s about, instead of just saying no,” she said.

Then followed a couple weeks of conversations between Jackson and Pointer, and Pointer and Jackson’s parents, and Jackson and the coaching staff, culminating in plans for an official visit to the school.

In the meantime, the Jacksons traveled down to Virginia State for orientation, and Tiana said she fell in love with the college all over again.

“I was stressing,” she said. “I was really excited to go to Virginia State. Then I was like, I still had this UIC visit.”

It was to be a whirlwind two-day tour. Jackson said that when she arrived at the campus, “it felt like I’d been there before. It was very comforting.”

What followed was a full day of observing a practice, talking face-to-face with Coach Pointer and meeting the school’s president while getting a bird’s-eye view of the Windy City from his office.

That first day convinced part of Jackson that she still wanted to play, and she wanted to play at UIC. But there was still her connection to Virginia State that, she said, was tugging at her heart.

The next day was more meetings and, later on, a team cookout.

“We all played volleyball and then we had a water balloon fight,” she said. “I was having the most fun with this random group of people. I did not know any of them. It felt like family. It felt like I was at home.”

“So then my heart was like, OK, you can check that off, you got it,” Jackson said. “It took me feeling like how I feel when I’m in Franklin, there, to really bring my heart into it.”

This will be Pointer’s second season helming the UIC Flames, which are in a rebuilding stage. Pointer said in an email that one reason she wanted Jackson on her team was for her “unyielding dedication to her craft.”

“Tiana has proven herself to be a winner on and off the court,” Pointer said. Noting the two Lady Warrior state Tournament of Champions championship teams Jackson was on, Pointer said winning once was “challenging enough in the State of New Jersey, but two is highly impressive and is a testament to her ability to will her team to victory with an unyielding dedication to her craft.”

“This only tells a portion of her story, as her character and academic acumen are highly impressive,” Pointer wrote. “Her parents have given her the tools to succeed and she has decided she will utilize these tools to advocate for what she wants in life and the legacy she hopes to leave as an athlete, scholar, and uniquely gifted individual.”

“For these reasons, she fits the dynamics I am creating and cultivating for our team as representatives for our world who happen to have elite level gifts in the play of basketball,” Pointer wrote.

Taylor said the FHS coaching staff is “thrilled” that Jackson signed with UIC.

“We are so thrilled for Tiana to continue her basketball career at UIC playing for Coach Tasha Pointer,” Taylor said in a text. “She has put in a lot of work in the past four years and we couldn’t be more proud of her!”

Franklin High School Athletic Director Ken Margolin called the news “awesome.”

“I am so happy for her,” he said in a text. “God is good!”

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate live streamed an interview with Tiana about her plans:


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