East Lansing boys basketball Head Coach Ray Mitchell had a lofty comparison for Brevin Jackson after the junior guard had peppered Waverly with athletic and crafty layups, confident midrange jump shots and a pair of buzzer beaters.
“This kid is incredible,” Mitchell said. “He reminds me a lot of Cassius Winston.”
Now, at this stage, comparing Jackson to the former Michigan State star and collegiate All-American in an absolute sense might be premature. But Mitchell doesn’t think about Jackson in quite that way. Having gone to school with his father and knowing him from a young age, Mitchell recalled calling a younger Winston “The Finisher” because of his ability to get his shot to go down.
“Brevin is cut from that same cloth,” Mitchell said. “Brevin has floaters, finishers — the Isaiah Thomas scoop shot. He’s had those mastered ever since he was a young child. And it’s just a knack that he has. I trust him attacking the basket with the best of ’em.”
On Saturday, in a 59-54 win over Waverly for the district championship, Jackson popped up and provided a much-needed scoring boost for East Lansing. He scored in timely bursts while attacking the rim and canned a buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the first half, with several calmly-taken jump shots from midrange sprinkled in. Jackson’s ability to consistently get a bucket — enabled by his offensive versatility — allowed EL to keep the Warriors behind by a few scores for most of the game.
“If you just do one thing, it’s easy to guard,” Jackson said postgame. “So I figured out when I was younger, if I work on multiple things, it would be harder for people to guard me. And it really showed today.”
Entering Saturday, Jackson knew he’d need to lean on that versatility and not settle for contested layups. In recent games, he’s driven to the basket and drawn contact from opponents, only to not score or draw a foul to get some free throws. He knew he’d need to get crafty.
At the end of the first quarter, with fewer than 10 seconds on the clock, East Lansing was moving the ball on offense in search of a final shot. With about three seconds to go, the ball made its way to Jackson underneath the basket. With two defenders behind him, Jackson took a hard dribble, shotfaked, and paused for a moment. The two would-be shot blockers behind him were fooled and leapt up, taking themselves out of the play and giving Jackson the space he needed.
With about one second remaining, Jackson flipped up a layup just in time to beat the buzzer and put the Trojans ahead, 17-14, at the end of the first.
And that layup was Jackson’s second in as many offensive possessions, as he scored four points in the final minute of the first quarter to stave off a Waverly run. Similar scoring bursts came in other key spots.
In the third quarter, Waverly benefitted from a major swing in the game when Deunte Phifer made a 3 and got fouled, sending him to the line for an additional free throw, which he made. That four-point play brought Waverly to within three points. Mitchell called a timeout.
Out of that pause, each team made a 3. Then Jackson drove to the middle of the lane and sank a floater, pushing the EL lead back to five. Waverly responded to cut it back to three. On East Lansing’s next possession, senior guard David Wilkerson missed a corner 3. But instead of the Warriors getting a rebound and a chance to tie the game, Jackson sprinted in from the 3-point line, leaping to secure the rebound and flipping in a reverse layup before landing.
His four-point burst kept EL ahead by two scores.
“I love having him because, with all our other guys, people kind of don’t pay attention to him. And then before you know it, he’s at the basket finishing,” Mitchell said of Jackson.
After the game, Mitchell said he thinks Jackson is one of the most underrated players in the state.
And, in line with that, Jackson maybe isn’t the focal point of most opponent’s defensive gameplans. Senior guard Marcus Wourman and 6-foot-10 junior center Ethan Dunn rightfully draw a large share of defensive attention.
But that extra attention on those two — along with roster attrition this year — allows for Jackson (and others) to thrive.
At the end of the first half, the Trojans held the ball for a final shot while holding a 31-23 lead. Wourman handled the ball, bleeding half-a-minute of clock before starting to attack and looking to score on his own. But as Wourman moved into the paint with mere seconds remaining, the defense swarmed to him.
“I was just a passing option,” Jackson said. “They came and double-teamed Marcus. He found me and I knocked it down.”
As Jackson’s right corner 3 swished through the net and the buzzer sounded on the first half, he celebrated. He started moving toward the locker room, hopping, skipping and spinning, with his arms raised above his head and his hands forming the symbol for “3.”
If Jackson keeps taking and making shots like he did on Saturday, he might not stay underrated much longer.