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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

By Bethany Bradsher

Macy system gains a convert in Jackson

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

East Carolina women's basketball coach Heather Macy is grateful that the Lady Pirate who has taken the most naturally to her system of play is also one of the players who get to spend the most time in it.

She is sophomore Ariana Jackson, known to teammates at A.J., and she has established herself as a steady presence through the first stops on the Conference USA schedule, putting up 16 points in each of ECU’s last two games, against Memphis and Texas-El Paso. In the UTEP contest, Jackson scored her second career double-double, pulling down a personal-best 12 rebounds to go with those 16 points.

For all of her contributions at game time, Jackson is proving to be just as valuable in practice, where she sets a standard that makes her a full partner in instilling the values and priorities of Macy’s new system.

“The kind of person she is, and the things that she does off the floor, really walks in the footsteps of what we’re building here and the direction we’re going,” said Macy, who came to ECU on April 30. “We’re real proud of her and really excited that we have three years to work with her.

"A.J. believes in what we’re doing so much, to know that she’s here long term helps us.”

Jackson has been a reliable go-to for the Pirates since the season tipped off — she is the third highest scorer on the squad and is leading the team in free-throw percentage with 77.6 percent — but in recent weeks her play has been elevated, an improvement she traces to a growing comfort level in Macy’s way of doing things.

“I definitely think there’s been a little shift,” Jackson said. “As every game goes on I get a little more comfortable in our system. It has been a little adjustment coming from last year and then accepting this new system, but I take on everything she challenges us with, and I love our new system.”

A native of West Palm Beach, FL, Jackson came to East Carolina because she was drawn by the differences between Greenville and South Florida and the recommendations from former ECU assistant coach Jocelyn Wyatt. And even if parts of her Pirate experience have been turbulent, she is absolutely sure that she made the right choice when she came north.

Macy is equally sure, because in Jackson she has found a potent scorer and hustling rebounder who leans in at practice and then brings to bear against her opponents the lessons from practice.

“AJ is the hardest worker on our basketball team,” Macy said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re doing a shooting workout or we’re in the weight room, she’s putting 100 percent into everything.”

Few observers realize, Jackson said, how difficult the turbulent spring was for her and her teammates. First Sharon Baldwin-Tener left after eight successful years at ECU, then Wes Moore was introduced as the next Pirates coach but announced the next day his intention to stay at Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Macy accepted the job, assembled a staff and started the process of building her own legacy.

“We have certain principles and values that we’re instituting, and we’re also gradually progressing toward the style of play that I want to play,” she said. “We’re not playing as fast as what I want to play, we’re not defending the ball as hard as I want to defend and we’re not pushing the ball and scoring like what I hope we’ll be scoring in the future.”

C-USA is a tough conference, but at 6-9 overall and 0-2 in conference play, the Lady Pirates embark on a road trip to New Orleans with hopes of upending Tulane and accelerating toward a peak in the postseason. Aiding Jackson in that pursuit are players like seniors Allison Spivey and Kim Gay, and juniors Ashley Clarke and Jean Best. Best was injured in the preseason and has been slowly catching up on the court and in her conditioning workouts.

“There are no games in Conference USA that are just gimmee games,” she said. “And that’s the thing with this team, is we have to bring it all the time. We need the players we rely on to mentally and physically prepare every time.”

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

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01/12/2011 04:48 AM

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