Nia Jackson isn’t done handing out assists for the Ducks.
The decorated former Oregon women’s basketball point guard has rejoined the program this season as a member of coach Kelly Graves’ staff.
Jackson’s official title is director of creativity, a role that includes video coordination, summer camp organization and other responsibilities.
“It’s like coming home for me right now,” Jackson said after a recent practice. “This an amazing team, an amazing staff, and it’s been a great opportunity for me to come in and just learn and try to grow and be a part of such a great team.”
Jackson was an all-Pac-12 first-team selection in 2011 and was named the Ducks’ most valuable player as a junior and senior. After playing professionally in Finland, she retired in 2013 due to a series of knee injures.
Graves said Jackson has fit right in with the 2018-19 Oregon team, which is ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press preseason poll after back-to-back Elite Eight runs in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think Nia is phenomenal,” Graves said. “She’s a hard worker, she has already given us a lot in the recruiting in terms of just content that we’re putting out and new ideas. She’s got a great attitude. … That was a great hire, a slam-dunk hire. She’s a Duck and she’s proud of it and was one of our all-time greats, so she’s got credibility.
“I think our team really likes her, they’ve bonded with her in a short period of time, as well as our coaching staff. That’s one of the best moves I’ve made.”
Jackson is not allowed to coach on the floor with Graves and full-time assistants Mark Campbell, Jodie Berry and Xavi Lopez. But being only a few years removed from her playing days, Jackson provides a nice bridge between the players and the staff.
“She’s been in their shoes here at Oregon,” Berry said. “She’s a lot closer to their age than the rest of us on staff. It’s a valuable asset for these guys to see her as a role model.”
Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard have become local celebrities while taking the program to unprecedented heights. Diehard fans are just as familiar with Jackson, who was recruited by Oregon legend Bev Smith and was dynamic running Paul Westhead’s frenetic system.
“She’s always ready and smiling for anything we need. She played, so it’s definitely cool to see her and have her tell stories,” Hebard said of Jackson. “We had a Daisy Duck potluck, and everybody remembered her. That was cool to see, and she tells us stories about on the road and how different it is.”
Jackson led the Ducks in assists for three consecutive seasons and scored 1,007 points in 114 career games. Her 355 assists and 204 steals rank in the top 10 in school history.
“Everywhere we go people are calling her name,” Ionescu said. “She’s awesome to be around. She’s very vocal, and I’m excited for her to be with our program and come back to Eugene and represent the Ducks.”
Jackson spent the previous four seasons at Loyola Marymount, including the 2017-18 campaign as a full-time assistant.
“That’s my goal basically is to get back into coaching,” Jackson said. “But I’m going to take this year to learn as much as I can. This is a pretty veteran staff they have here. They have a lot of experience, so I’m just going to be a sponge and soak up as much as I can.”
As good as Jackson was, Oregon finished 15-16 overall and 7-11 in the Pac-10 during her senior season. She is looking forward to experiencing the postseason with the current Ducks and perhaps being a part of the program’s first Final Four appearance.
“It’s very different,” Jackson said of the rise of Oregon women’s basketball under Graves. “The one thing that I have noticed being back here is they take care of business and they like to have fun as well. They know when it’s time to have fun and when it’s time to be serious.
“It’s great to be around such a fun group that love the game, and obviously them being so talented as well.”