Before the season began, Forsyth Central basketball player Cale Jackson and his teammates sat down to take a survey. Their head coach, Greg Dirst, wanted to find out where his team related and varied—a diagnostic of personalities. The question came up regarding goals for the year, and nearly every Bulldog had the same answer.
They wanted to make it to the state playoffs.
Jackson, a rising senior who has been a productive combo guard for the Bulldogs since his sophomore campaign, was fueled knowing he and his teammates had a common goal, but knew work would need to be done. While the team has talent, as well as size (center Jon Richards, another senior, towers the most at 6-foot-9), it’s also an unfamiliar group—only three players have been with the team for three years. Jackson and his fellow upperclassmen have been tasked with bonding the team together to reach its goal, and it’s a “work in progress.”
So far this season the Bulldogs have a losing record, but still expect to flip the script and be one of the four teams in Region 7-AAAAA to qualify for the playoffs. Central hasn’t made it to the state playoffs in boys basketball since 2001. Jackson is leading the charge.
“I think it’s very realistic,” Jackson said of his team’s goals. “I’d say Riverwood is definitely a tough team, but we’re definitely a competitor in that region.”
Jackson’s statistics speak to his consistency. As a sophomore he scored 12 points, grabbed 3.5 rebounds and dished 2.1 assists per game. As a junior his scoring went up to 13.1 and his rebounding went up to 4.8. So far this year his scoring per game, albeit early, has gone back down to 12.3, but that’s not a bad thing—he thinks it means the team is molding around him.
“I’m always working on something,” Jackson said. “I’d mainly say I’ve become a transition player. I like getting other people’s shots set up, setting screens, doing all of the dirty work.”
Aside from executing plays, he puts just as much attention on the environment in the gym, “keeping everyone focused on practice. Knowing where to be in game situations,” he said.
Jackson has been around basketball his entire life. His father was a local coach, so he spent voluntary and involuntary time around the squeaking, the bouncing and the clanging of the game. He said much of the game itself, like having a pure shot, has come almost naturally to him, which helped him focus on other areas of development.
“I always try to get better, so working out and stuff, I’d say I’m always getting better in those areas,” Jackson said. “We have workouts in the morning where we will come in and then have practice later that day. I’d say 7 a.m. workouts before the season for conditioning, in the weight room, out conditioning in the gym, so we do a lot to remain fresh and stay healthy.”
But while Jackson is hyper-focused on team goals, he can’t help but acknowledge his senior season holds a lot of weight—not just on his team’s shoulders, but his own.
Despite being such a steady performer, Jackson’s prospects of playing collegiately are still up in the air. Not only does he hope making state can catapult the program to new heights, but he’d see it as an added bonus if he could land an opportunity to play at the next level in the process.
“I’m still looking to try to get a scholarship somewhere,” Jackson said. “It’s still in question.”
Still, he made the conversation about his collegiate prospects short, sweet, and quiet.
“I see myself as a team player. Always putting the team first,” Jackson insisted. “Coach always says we need to focus on putting the ‘we’ over the ‘me.’”