A layup: it’s a fairly simple action that every basketball player has shot a thousand times. It’s every young hooper’s first shot to master. During an individual or team warm up, it almost always comes first. It’s meant to be easy, a “gimmie” shot. But it’s more than that. While it’s “supposed” to be an easy shot, players often find themselves on the other end of a physical—and even mental—barrier that stands in the way of their goal. In many ways, sophomore Lauryn Jackson’s basketball career has been just that, a simple, yet complicated layup.
In the seventh grade, Jackson discovered a layup for the first time. She was at a basketball tryout when the coach told the players to do something “simple,” a layup. At the time, Jackson, not recognizing the term, watched the others and followed their lead. She eventually found herself on a talented squad with other seventh and eighth graders.
Despite success in the first two years of her young career, Jackson decided to drop the sport prior to her freshman year at Tonopah Valley High School in Tonopah, Arizona. However, her hiatus did not last long as she was quickly tracked down by girl’s basketball head coach Katie Fonseca and earned on the varsity team, just one of two freshmen to do so.
Jackson’s freshman season—which led to a trip to the Arizona state tournament—was essential in her growth, as she was constantly challenged by older teammates and a tough coach who saw her potential. “It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I was only 13 and [Fonseca] screamed at me one time and I thought I was going to pee my pants,” she said. “But I think from there it just escalated.”
After high school, Jackson went on to play at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona. In was there that her career, and life, took an unexpected turn, one that eventually led her straight to Blackburn. Shortly before the end of her first semester, she suffered a concussion while going up for a layup in a game against school rival, Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Jackson was told she would be out for three to four weeks. Between the injury and a near hour commute from her hometown of Tonopah, Arizona to Phoenix every day, she was worn out and decided to take time off from school.
After being out of school for three semesters, Jackson’s urge to play again led to an impromptu decision. “I quit my job and left everything and came up here by myself, ” she said. She heard of Blackburn through Fonseca, her old high school coach who had recently been hired as the Blackburn women’s head basketball coach.
Unfortunately for Jackson, she was unaware that her time at her junior college would force her to sit out a season. Because she played part of her freshman season at South Mountain, she was no longer allowed to compete athletically as a freshman. Since she left after the first semester, she was not able to complete her freshman credits, leaving her ineligible by the NCAA to compete until she reached sophomore academic standing.
Spending an entire season on the sidelines, unable to physically help her team, Jackson learned how to appreciate the little things. “I’m not taking it for granted because [sitting out] last season sucked. I think it also fueled me because now I’m constantly pushing. I push myself harder just because I know that at any moment it could be taken away. It makes me appreciate it more. And not being able to go home makes me focus harder because I don’t want my mom wasting money on me,” Jackson said, struggling to find the right words to explain how much making her mother proud means to her. Her mother, a cancer survivor, has always been her number one fan and continues to do so despite the near 1,600 miles between them. “Making her proud… she’s the first person I think about. I know that she’s a million times stronger than me because of what she’s gone through.”
It’s that strong-willed and determined fight of her mother that has pushed Jackson to be the athlete, daughter and person that she is today. She also has had her own adversities to overcome. She possesses all of the tools required to be a great basketball player—speed, agility, a solid vertical and an instinct on the court that can’t be taught—yet once again basketball reminds us that there’s no such thing as an easy layup. Around the age of seven, Jackson was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes an inflammation of the patellar ligament, causing a large and tender bump below her kneecap that forces her to take extra precautions and care for her body. But still, Jackson pushes, giving her all to a game that has given her everything.
Throughout the years, Jackson has continued to push and grow both on and off the court, and while her journey may have started as the result of one simple shot, her path has taken her much further than the game. “Going out and playing that first day in seventh grade—that day has led me to where I am now, as a person and as a basketball player,” she said.
It’s stories like Jackson’s that show how basketball isn’t just a game, it’s a way of life. It’s the lessons and the challenges she has encountered that have molded her, made her stronger and allowed her to grow into the person she is today.
Jackson has come a long way since that first layup and continues to take her shot today.