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Maceo Jack, son of UB women's coach, finds his passion in basketball

As a young child in Indiana, Maceo Jack went to his mother’s basketball games and played with his toys. When his mother would yell at players on the Indiana University women’s basketball team, Jack had a few words for her.

“He’d come out of the stands and say, ‘Mom, stop yelling at those people! They’re your friends!’ ” recalled Felisha Legette-Jack, the women’s basketball coach at the University at Buffalo.

And when the horn sounded in an arena, it reduced Jack to tears.

The Legette-Jack family should be accustomed to big stages. Jack’s mother has coached basketball for 32 years, including the last eight seasons at UB. Jack’s father, David, is a volleyball coach and a real estate agent who played for the Jamaican men’s national volleyball team.

In elementary school, Jack had no desire to play basketball. It’s hard to believe, now that Jack is a junior guard on the George Washington men’s basketball team. Jack and the Colonials (10-12, 4-5 Atlantic 10 Conference) face St. Bonaventure (14-8, 6-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Reilly Center in Allegany.

But in a family of competitors, Jack never felt the pressure to become a basketball player. He took time to find his passion for the sport.

“My parents always told me, whatever you want to do, it is fine,” said Jack, a 2016 Williamsville North graduate. “They never forced me into playing sports. Basketball, I naturally got into it, but my parents also wanted me to follow my passion and what I wanted to do, and whatever dreams I had.”

A frustrating start

The Jacks have a household rule: Once you start something, you finish it.

Legette-Jack remembers that her son didn’t want to play basketball, because he knew he wasn’t going to be committed to it.

Years later, Jack admits that basketball piqued his interest, but it wasn’t enough for him to take the plunge. But as a fifth grader at Binford Elementary School in Bloomington, Ind., Jack had a change of heart.

Jack joined a local AAU team because his friends from school were on the team, including his best friend, Carter Sims. And, Legette-Jack said, Carter's father, coach Mark Sims, set a new ground rule: If you don’t like this, you don’t have to continue.

“I was really bad at basketball, but I was still learning about it,” Jack said. “It was something new and it was frustrating, and there were a lot of emotions because I was so far behind my peers, who had played basketball for so long. But it was still fun. We traveled all over Indiana and played in all these nice gyms, and it was a whole different mix of experiences. That’s what made it so fun.”

At the time, Sims had no idea his friend’s mom was a college basketball coach. He remembers, though, Jack’s first days on a youth-level team that included Riley Crean, the son of former Indiana and current Georgia men’s basketball coach Tom Crean.

“It was definitely frustrating for Maceo, having all this untapped athletic ability and he was just beginning to discover it,” said Sims, who is a senior at Indiana and a manager for the Hoosiers men’s basketball team. “He wasn’t very coordinated at first, and he was just running around and throwing shots up. But he was always putting the work in, and it’s very obvious, now, he was meant to play basketball. It’s incredible to see that he’s come this far, from being an awkward kid to becoming a fantastic basketball player.

“He came along for the ride, and he became comfortable playing basketball. That’s the power of the sport. Coming together with your friends and working towards a common goal, and those friends become your family.”

Jack enrolled at Williamsville North as a freshman in 2012, when his mother became the coach at UB.

Chuck Swierski, the boys basketball coach and an algebra teacher at North, didn’t immediately make the connection between Legette-Jack and his new student, but remembers Jack as a quiet kid who was hardworking and diligent.

On the basketball court, however, Jack held his own against older players, and earned a spot on the Spartans’ varsity team as a freshman. He averaged 23.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in his senior year, and committed to George Washington during his postgraduate year at St. Thomas More, a prep school in Oakdale, Conn.

“He wasn’t afraid,” Swierski said. “I’ll admit, I thought, ‘He’s a freshman and I don’t think he’s ready for varsity.’ When fall tryouts came around, we had to keep him. He made us keep him. He was not afraid to take a shot or drive the ball strong to the basket, or go against the older kids. But even as he was fearless, he was always respectful.”

A family passion

At George Washington, Jack is majoring in political science, in part because of his father’s influence. He remembers how David watched the news every morning, and on car rides to school, they would talk about current events.

Jack also has come a long way since he sat in the stands at Indiana and admonished his mother for yelling at her players.

Now 6 feet, 5 inches, Jack has averaged 11.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 22 games for the Colonials. He scored a career-high 35 points to lead the Colonials to a 107-104, four-overtime win Jan. 29 against Davidson in Washington, D.C.

“I just was feeling really good, from the top of the game,” Jack said. “I can’t explain it, but when you put so much work into something, you hope it shows. I think I did that really well that night. Everything was going in, and I just kept shooting.”

But Legette-Jack laughs at a memory of the first year from when her son played basketball.

“He’d get the ball and just run down the floor with it,” Legette-Jack said, laughing. “And I’d be in the stands, yelling, ‘You’ve got to dribble, Maceo!’

“But still, to the day, it’s a sadness of mine that I don’t get a chance to see him as often as I want.”

That will change Wednesday at St. Bonaventure. Jack has had the date circled on his schedule for a while.

“It’s going to be amazing having my parents there,” Jack said. “It’s going to be so nice to know they’re going to be there, to support me. Mom always sits in the front, and dad always sits behind her. Mom always yells, but dad claps a little more quietly. It’s always been like that.”

Legette-Jack lives in a bit of a bubble during the basketball season, overseeing her program at UB.

But prior to a practice last week, Legette-Jack looked at the calendar, looked at the Bulls’ schedule, then looked at George Washington’s schedule. Her team had an open date Wednesday, the same day as Bona’s home game against the Colonials.

“I almost cried in my office,” Legette-Jack said. “Gosh, that’s so cool! You really want to hug your kids more. You really want to love your family more, and you want to let them see the love by you being present. Maceo gets what I do, but it doesn’t make it easier for the mom who wants to be there.

“But he is playing a sport that I love. Everything I love is basketball, and I wish I could see him more!”

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