Chicago State University women’s head basketball coach Angela Jackson is entering her tenth season as head coach of the Cougars, and although she’s been coaching for over twenty years she still thrives on the challenge of helping her athletes win on and off the court.
Jackson has enjoyed winning seasons like 2010-2011 when CSU went 24-10 and she won Great West Conference Coach of the Year accolades. She has endured losing, injury plagued seasons like last year when the Cougars were 6-24. And challenging, rebuilding campaigns like this year where they’re off to a 1-5 start.
“We’re experiencing a little bit of growing pains this season,” Jackson said of her young squad that has ten underclassmen and just two seniors on the roster.
Jackson is CSU’s all-time leader in coaching wins with 116 in her nine-year tenure. She attributes much of that success to the consistency of her coaching staff. Assistant coach Renalda Blackburn has coached for seven seasons, and Gwen Burton for ten.
“Any time you can have continuity in your staff is good thing. They know what I expect, and know what I’m teaching – the continuity is definitely a plus,” Jackson said.
Another key to fielding a quality basketball team is getting the type of athletes that are a good fit with the program’s philosophy. Jackson wants student/athletes that play hard and also study with equal enthusiasm.
“We want kids that take academics seriously,” she said. “It’s not OK to be a 2.0 student. If you’re going to be average in the classroom then you’re going to be average in everything else you do.”
Chicago State women’s basketball players have had an excellent graduation rate under Jackson’s tenure, and 91 percent of her four-year players have earned their degrees. She stresses academics even for athletes who have the potential to play professionally.
“Obviously, even if we have women go on to pursue a professional career in basketball they’re not going to make the money that the men do in the NBA. So women definitely have to have our degree to fall back on, that’s something that we push in our program and that’s very important to our program,” Jackson said.
She also pushes her players to play hard on the court. There is a major adjustment to be made from high school to college hoops, and it’s not for the meek.
“Basketball is physical – you expect for it to be physical,” Jackson said. “I personally like for it to be physical – this is Division 1 and you’ve got to let kids make plays.”
Recruiting is probably the biggest part of coaching that the public doesn’t get a glimpse of, and encouraging a student to attend a particular institution can be challenging with so many options available.
Chicago State recruiting is even more challenging than many Division 1 schools because they don’t have the name recognition of more high-profile programs. The South Side location and safety concerns can also be a deterrent to some potential recruits, but Jackson said CSU has proven to be a very safe place over the years.
“We not only have one of the safest campuses in the city, we have one of the safest campuses in the state of Illinois,” she said.
“Chicago State is an excellent choice for a kid because you have Division 1 credentials plus you are close to home. We have beautiful facilitates and most importantly from an athletic perspective, we can win games here – we are a diamond in the rough,” she said.
The campus has seen a resurgence over the past few years with several new academic and sports facilities.
“This is an exciting time at Chicago State,” Jackson said. “The ages 18-23 are an important time in young women’s lives and I like being that bridge between everything they have learned from their parents and everything they need to know to become successful young women – that’s what’s important to me. “