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Gophers hit mother load with star guard Jackson

For a moment, Minnesota guard Bobby Jackson stood alone in the far right corner of the court.

He had come up with another steal, milked the clock as much as possible and, after he drew yet another foul, raised his right arm skyward and smiled.

It was, appropriately enough, a brief moment.

Courtney James rushed over to hug him, but Jackson undoubtedly would have preferred if all his teammates had joined in that embrace.

Basking alone in the spotlight isn't for Bobby Jackson.

"I hope people realize what Minnesota is all about," he said when asked for the umpteenth time if the college basketball world had finally recognized his star quality after leading the Golden Gophers to an 80-72 win over UCLA in the Midwest Regional final and into the Final Four for the first time in school history.

"I hope they realize what Sam Jacobson is about, what John Thomas is about. We've got a lot of great players."

Jackson, a second-team All-American and the Big Ten Player of the Year, is not feigning modesty. His humility is genuine. But then he has had a lot of practice.

A lifetime's worth.

When Bobby and his twin sister, Barbara, were 1, Sarah Jackson left her husband and took on two jobs _ as a manager at a Hampton Inn and as a babysitter _ to support her family.

The Brookview housing project in tiny Salisbury, N.C., wasn't the best environment, but Jackson kept her children out of trouble. They not only feared a "whupping" if they disobeyed her, they respected her.

When Bobby, who did not play organized basketball until he was a high school sophomore and never could afford to attend a camp, wanted a pair of $130 state-of-the-art high-tops, his mother suggested he get a job.

He became a lifeguard and bought his dream sneakers with his first paycheck.

"My mother taught me a lot of things about life and I'm a better person because I didn't have a father in my life," said Jackson, who has a daughter, Breann, almost 3, and a 10-month-old son, Kendrick. "I'm a responsible father. I love my kids to death."

Although talented, Jackson received no recruiting calls from a Division I school. He lacked the grades, choosing to goof around with friends instead of studying.

He signed with a Division II school in Charlotte. But he knew that if he was that close to his friends and wasn't playing basketball for the year he had to sit out as a Prop 48, he never would turn his life around.

He had to distance himself to gain the proper perspective.

Hello, Western Nebraska Community College.

But during his first practice there, Jackson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Since he could not play, he hit the weight room and the library. He recovered _ on and off the court.

He led Western Nebraska to a third-place finish in the 1995 junior college national tournament, earned his degree and garnered scholarship offers from Wake Forest, Cincinnati, Arizona and Minnesota, even though coach Clem Haskins had accepted only three junior college transfers in his career.

"It broke my mom's heart," Jackson said of not going to Wake Forest, which is less than a two-hour drive from Salisbury. "Wake Forest is a great program, but I looked at who was going to help me improve my game and where I was going to fit in the best."

Adversity tested Jackson immediately at Minnesota. He broke his left foot and missed the first seven games of the 1995-96 season. He returned and led the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points, and to the cusp of the NCAA Tournament.

But despite a 19-11 record, UM did not receive an invitation.

Jackson and his teammates promised that would not happen this year. They worked extensively in the off-season and improved. Especially Jackson.

"When he first came, he was a good player, but he's worked on his game ever since he got here and didn't allow himself to be stay average," Thomas said.

He has started all 34 games, leading the Gophers (31-3) to their first Big Ten title since 1982, and averages 15 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4 assists and 2.1 steals.

"There's so much about Bobby that makes him a special player," said junior forward Sam Jacobson, the Gophers' designated three-point shooter. "He's a tremendous athlete, a great passer, a great ball-handler, a great playmaker and he can take any guy one-on-one and score. Bobby can do it all."

In the Midwest Regional semifinal last week, he scored a career-high 36 points in a 90-84 double-overtime win against Clemson. He played 49 minutes, the last 17:10 at the point _ for the injured Eric Harris _ and with four fouls.

He followed that with 18 points, including eight in the final moments, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals against UCLA.

Jackson is on schedule to graduate in July with a 3.25 grade-point average in sports management and is preparing himself to take care of his children, his mother and his sister and her family.

"He's a better person than he is a player," said Haskins, the lone father-figure Jackson has ever known.

"He understands what education is all about. He understands how to help his fellow man. His values are right and he knows how to treat people. I just can't say enough great things about Bobby Jackson. Where he started and where he's at today, he beat a lot of odds. That's why I'm so proud of him."