Southern Utah senior forward Jackson Stevenett chuckled when he heard the question. He hadn’t been offered a scholarship after a standout high school career at Davis, so how had he ended up with the Thunderbirds?
Turns out he’s going to spend quite a while indebted to his former high school coach, Jay Welk.
After Stevenett spent his freshman year at the University of Utah, where he focused on school and didn’t play basketball, Welk, through a connection with the Southern Utah coaching staff, got him a walk-on roster spot with the Thunderbirds. Stevenett didn’t even have to try out.
Four years later, Stevenett has more than earned a scholarship. He leads the Big Sky Conference with 17.8 points per game to go with six rebounds and nearly two assists and has turned into the Thunderbirds’ leader.
"I owe [Welk] for life, it seems like," Stevenett said. "Things have worked out pretty well down here. I even got married, so I guess I owe that to him, too."
Given Stevenett’s success with the Thunderbirds, it’s hard to believe he only was recruited lightly coming out of high school. There’s a simple reason for that, though, Stevenett believes. He played in the post at Davis, but at 6 foot 4, that style of play didn’t translate to college ball.
"I had been playing inside all throughout high school," Stevenett said. "I guess you could get away with it there, but I think that’s why I wasn’t really looked at because I was undersized for the position I played."
Stevenett has found a style of play that works with the Thundersbirds. He’s big enough that he can drive to the hoop and score in the post, but he also has a polished mid-range game.
"Anywhere inside the 3-point line, he feels like he’s capable of scoring on anybody," Thunderbirds coach Nick Robinson said.
Stevenett even added a 3-point shot. While he’ll never be a player who launches long-range 3s with little abandon, he’s knocked down 20 treys this season, 11 more than he made all of last season.
"Jackson completely understands who he is as a basketball player, what his strengths are, what his limitations are," Robinson said. "He does a fantastic job of playing to his strengths."
That Stevenett has accomplished so much, despite not being recruited out of high school, has inspired those around the Southern Utah program. His teammates look up to him, and Robinson sees the purpose of college sports in Stevenett.
"To see a young man take the challenge of coming to school, wanting to pursue a dream he has to play college basketball, it’s great to see that," Robinson said. "It’s one of the reasons I’m in college athletics."
With the college season winding down, Stevenett realizes his career is finite. He would be interested in playing overseas, but he’s unsure if the opportunity will arise.
As he looks around at his teammates in practice and up at the fans during games, he tries to savor the moments.
"I’ve actually been thinking about that a little bit," Stevenett said. "With the high school season coming to an end this week, it’s kind of hit me that I only have a few weeks left until I’m done. But hopefully something works out, and I get to play beyond this year."
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