Men’s basketball’s Maceo Jack, the son of star athletes, learned the importance of passion, energy and competitiveness from his parents.
By Eric Detweiler
For George Washington University Colonial Maceo Jack, it was a day for which he had long waited. For his mother, not so much.
Felisha Legette-Jack, a former Syracuse basketball star turned college coach, had won every one-on-one battle with her son—and there were many—over the first 15 years of his life.
Most of the games, whether in the family driveway or practice gyms at Indiana or Buffalo universities, weren't even close. If she could beat him 10-1, she would do it, using her size advantage and a well-rehearsed arsenal of moves near the basket to show him how far he had to grow as player.
Then, one day the budding major college basketball prospect managed a narrow victory.
"I went in my room and punched my pillow a little bit like 'What the heck happened?'" Ms. Legette-Jack remembered with a chuckle. "I'm not one of those people that's going to celebrate you because you beat me, but I was also prideful because it meant my son was getting better.
“He just beat somebody that really plays this game for keeps."
Now on the eve of the Colonials first regular season game at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Stony Brook at the Charles E. Smith Center, the GW sophomore is well on his way to carving out his own path in the sport. As Mr. Jack builds on an encouraging finish to last season, the 6-foot-5-inch guard has leaned on the lessons long-preached by his mother and a competitiveness that runs in the family to stoke his improvement.
"You've got to go out there like it's your last play every time," Mr. Jack said. "That's something I've always taken from her. She still coaches to this day with that type of passion and energy. That's something I'm thinking about when I go on the court every day."
Mr. Jack’s mother graduated from Syracuse University as the school's all-time leader in points and rebounds. His father, David, played volleyball on the Jamaican National Team and continues to coach that sport.
His parents were careful not to force him into any sport, and he was 9 years old before he joined his first basketball team. Once he decided to play, he wanted to be the best.
"Everything's a competition," Mr. Jack said. "It doesn't matter what it is. That's just kind of how we live."
For a long time, Mr. Jack aspired to stay close to home in Buffalo to play his college ball, but he eventually decided it would be best to chart his own path.
GW's men’s basketball coach Maurice Joseph impressed Mr. Jack with a passion and competitiveness that rivaled his parents. The Colonials' head coach got a commitment from Mr. Jack after a trip to Buffalo to attend one of the University of Buffalo games.
"The discipline that comes with being a student-athlete has been instilled within him from day one," Mr. Joseph said. "He's a guy who has unbelievable work ethic. He takes care of his body. He takes care of his academics. He's got everything you could want for your program."
That doesn't mean Mr. Jack didn't face the problems that most newcomers experience in the jump from high school to college basketball.
Last season, Mr. Jack appreciated input from his parents as he navigated those bumps in the road. They couldn't make it to many games in person, but they'd FaceTime after almost every one.
Most basketball conversations with his mother start with a reminder: As a mother, her love is unconditional and has nothing to do with basketball, but as a coach, she's going to call it like she sees it.
A particularly frank talk after he didn't play at all in a December win over Princeton sticks out. She told him he was being too timid in his limited chances and needed to show he belonged on the court.
Colonial Maceo Jack (c) with his parents Felisha Legette-Jack and David Jack. (GW Sports)
"She was just like 'Listen, you've got to get back to your roots. How you're playing is not you. You've got to get back to who you are and really remember why you came here and why you love this game," Mr. Jack recalled. "That was something I think I needed to hear."
He played better down the stretch. Over GW's final 10 games, Mr. Jack averaged 5.4 points in 12 minutes per game, highlighted by a career-best, 10-point effort in the Atlantic 10 Championship Tournament win over Fordham.
"It's all a mental thing for me," Mr. Jack said. "Because physically I feel like I have the tools to be really successful."
Mr. Jack has worked hard throughout the offseason to make sure he picks up where he left off. He's added eight pounds of muscle thanks to a full summer in the weight room, and he's focused on improving his ball handling in order to be more of a factor in running the offense.
What Mr. Jack didn't do was take the court against his mother during his two weeks at home before the start of the school year.
"She's the one who wants to play me now," he said with a laugh. "I used to be asking to play her, and now it's completely flipped. She wants to play me, and I never let her beat me anymore."