Basketball has run through the veins of Stu Jackson since he was a young child in Reading.
From leading Reading High to a state final in 1973, to playing college ball at Oregon and Seattle, to coaching in college and the NBA and to serving as an administrator, Jackson has made the sport his life’s work.
He’s about to begin his sixth year as the Big East Conference’s senior associate commissioner for men’s basketball after spending the previous seven years as the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations.
Jackson was the guest speaker Wednesday night for the Berks County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame Scholarship Dinner at Victor Emmanuel. He mingled with old friends, including his high school coach, Jim Gano, and shared his experiences from his decades-long career in basketball.
“I’ve been an administrator for the past 20 years and I enjoy it,” Jackson said. “It gives me the opportunity to affect the game that I love. I’ve been blessed to have the chance to do that, both at the professional and collegiate level. It’s been very rewarding.”
The 63-year-old Jackson was the star of the 1972-73 Reading High team that reached the PIAA Class A championship game. He went on to play three seasons at Oregon and one at Seattle.
He worked as an assistant coach at Oregon, Washington State and Providence before Rick Pitino, his boss with the Friars, became head coach of the New York Knicks and hired him as an assistant. A couple years later, he succeeded Pitino and at 33 became the second-youngest head coach in NBA history.
Jackson returned to the college ranks and coached Wisconsin for two seasons (1992-94), leading the Badgers to the 1994 NCAA Tournament. That year, the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies made Jackson their first hire as president and general manager. He spent six seasons with them and served as interim coach for 39 games in 1997.
Since then, he’s spent most of his time in the front office of the NBA and the Big East. He lives in New York and has five daughters between the ages of 18 and 31.
“The question I often get is: Do I miss coaching?” Jackson said. “Only every day. I made a decision that was best for my family at the time. I did not want to subject them to the twists, turns, rigors and uncertainty that coaching can bring. I’m happy with that decision.”
He left the Grizzlies in 2000 and worked for the NBA for several seasons. He was promoted to executive vice president in 2007 and remained in that position until he moved to the Big East in 2014.
“I miss being with a franchise and having a vested emotional interest in winning and losing,” Jackson said. “You don’t necessarily get that as an administrator with a league.”
He joined the reconfigured Big East after its first basketball season with new members Butler, Creighton and Xavier.
“When I arrived, there were some questions whether the conference was going to survive and what the conference would look like,” Jackson recalled. “I had a chance to be a part of determining how that conference would look.”
Villanova’s two national championships in 2016 and 2018 Jackson raised the Big East’s profile to a new level.
“That gave us legitimacy as one of the true power six conferences in America,” Jackson said.
Not surprisingly, he enjoys the sport at the NBA and college level. He said NBA playoff basketball “is still the highest level of the game on the planet.” He likes that the college game is moving toward being a wide-open game because it’s “more exciting.”
He doesn’t like the one-and-done rule because he believes high school players should be allowed to turn pro. He does like returning to Reading and Berks County, where he remains a basketball legend.
“It’s total selfishness for me,” he said. “I get to be in the community where I grew up. I get to see some of the closest friends I’ve had all my life. It’s good. It’s fun.”
Contact Rich Scarcella: 610-371-5070 or firstname.lastname@example.org.