“Genuine” vet Jarrett Jack has emerged as Knicks’ most important player

NBA: New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets

Following a torn ACL injury suffered in January 2016, no one could say for certain if Jarrett Jack was going to play in the NBA again except the veteran himself. Until signing with the Knicks this past September, Jack hadn’t seen much basketball action, save for two games with the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2016-17 season. Amid his comeback attempt, Jack was signed to a ten-day contract but his second chance at glory didn’t last long, as his short-term contract was not renewed.

Alas, Jack’s future in The Association looked uncertain at best, if not downright bleak. Fast-forward ten months from his rather underwhelming second stint with New Orleans, and Jack has been the undeniable X-Factor for the playoff-worthy Knicks. Putting an exclamation point on 2017, he hit two free-throws on December 31 with time winding down to give New York a victory in New Orleans and a .500 record to head into the new year.

For the resilient veteran, it was a chance at redemption to prove to the Pelicans (and the rest of the league) that he is indeed able to play at a high level once again. All the while, the Knicks are reaping the benefits. The 34 year old is averaging 7 points, 6 assists, and 3.6 rebounds in 34 games (33 starts) this season. His play isn’t sexy as much as it is steady, but his vast experience and vital guidance has led the Knicks in a winning direction. For this young, raw and unproven group, his presence has been key.

It’s been quite the campaign for Jack, who initially joined the Knicks on a non-guaranteed deal.

“The older you get, the smarter you are, because things are moving in slow motion. Coming into camp, he had to believe in his ability. He had an opportunity to compete for a job and it didn’t matter if it was guaranteed or not,” T.J. Ford, his teammate in 2008-09 with the Pacers, told KnicksJournal.com.  “Jarrett is someone who is always ready. People counted him out after the injury, and he just showed what he was willing and able to do.”

“Jarrett could have played football and he would have played quarterback. He’s able to tell every guy where they’re supposed to be and what to do on every single play,” Mario West, currently the Director of Player Personnel and Jack’s collegiate teammate at Georgia Tech, said.

Having been inducted in the university’s Hall of Fame back in 2016, West said Jack’s leadership qualities, both on and off the floor, have long been recognizable.

“He’s a tremendous human being, someone who had so much success at Georgia Tech. On the basketball court, his leadership skills just transform because he can pull everyone together. He pays attention to detail. It didn’t matter if you were a walk-on guy like myself, or a highly recruited scholarship guy like Chris Bosh. At Georgia Tech, Jarrett made everyone feel like they were important and played a part in things.”

West continued,  “Jarrett came back and got his degree here. He came here and did his job. He knew his goal was to play in the NBA, so he held himself to the highest standard. He also wasn’t afraid to hold others accountable to that same standard. He’s the first one on the floor. He’s always clapping and cheering. He has so many strong leadership qualities.”

Despite being a Knick for less than two months at the time, Jack hosted the team for Thanksgiving dinner at his Atlanta home when they were in the midst of a road trip and unable to enjoy the holiday closer to home. He goes out of his way to make people feel comfortable and welcomed, but that’s no surprise to those who know him. That’s just Jarrett.

“His whole family would come down. We met his brother, mother, and his dad. His mother would come down and cook for the team! He would call me up and say, ‘hey man, Mom’s got her famous Mac and Cheese again.'”, West reminisced about their collegiate days. “Jarrett is the kind of guy who would give you the clothes off his back. Literally. He would let me wear his throwback jerseys and would sometimes just give me some. He was a big sneaker guy and would give me Jordan’s! I would always ask him if he wanted money, and he would tell me to not even worry about it.”

Though they only spent one season together in Indiana, Ford said the pair’s connection was instant and it’s led to a long standing bond.

“He’s one of my really good friends. He has a genuine heart and is someone you can always depend on as a teammate. He’s caring, a good leader, and wants to get better every day. We stay in touch, check in on one another, and stay at each other’s houses,” the 8th pick in the 2003 NBA Draft said. “He’s more than a friend, he’s a brother. I enjoyed getting to know him off the court. He spent time with my wife and kids. I was [also] able to work out with him when he was coming back from his ACL injury.”

Jack had always held out hope that he would play in the NBA again. But the path that led him to becoming the starting point guard of the Knicks was one that would have never materialized if Scott Perry didn’t become General Manager in New York. Working for the Kings earlier in the offseason, the executive brought Jack in for a workout and the stars were aligning for him to join Sacramento.

“Scott had told me he liked what he saw. I saw he took the Knicks job, so I didn’t know where that left me,” Jack told Michael Rapaport on the I Am Rapaport Stereo Podcast. Thereafter, a call from his agent changed everything. The agent said, “Make sure [your knee] is right for September 17th and 18th. That’s when the Knicks’ camp is. Scott Perry is still very much interested in you. He wants you to come to camp, see what you can do, and give you a chance to make the team.”

Little did anyone know that Jack would emerge to serve in the capacity he has thus far. Yes, he was expected to be a mentor for Frank Ntilikina. He can teach and show the 19 year old things and be there to answer any questions he may have. But the fact of the matter is Ntilikina simply isn’t ready to run the show just yet. He can be overzealous, carefree, and runs full speed, allowing raw instinct to take over instead of rationale. Whereas Ntilikina is inexperienced, Jack provides balance in key situations, so much so that Jeff Hornacek wants to stick with the vet as starter.

“Jarrett is a great teammate and person for any organization. He’s someone you want to mentor younger players. Any team would love to have him. He’s playing a key role [for Frank Ntilikina],” Ford (who now works hard to positively influence and benefit the youth of of Austin, Texas through his basketball invitational and academy) added.

Jack scored 9 of his 15 points during the fourth quarter of New York’s final victory of 2017. The Knicks went winless during the preseason and lost their first three games before turning over the keys to the veteran. He’s been clutch, steady, and his team sits three games above .500 with him in the starting unit. Jack can still play and his presence is obviously much more than that of a token benchwarmer.

But alas, no one can deny the high caliber teammate and even better person Jack carries himself to be. After all, Stephen Curry thanked the thirteen-year NBA guard during his 2015 M.V.P. acceptance speech, despite only being teammates in Golden State for one season prior. Before joining the Warriors in the summer of 2016, Kevin Durant leaned on Jack (the two are family friends) for advice as he ultimately came to a decision.

Nevertheless, as West and many others attest, you don’t have to be a big star like Bosh, Curry, or Durant for Jack to show you love. Just ask Michael Spitz, owner of New York City’s Mr. Throwback store, who met the considerate individual during his time with the Brooklyn Nets.

“He hit me up, looking for a Kenny Anderson Nets jersey. I found it for him and he came in to pick it up. We took pictures, I gave him some Mr. Throwback gear to wear. Shortly after, Jarrett was looking for a Stephon Marbury Georgia Tech jersey. He and Steph both wore number three at Georgia Tech,” Spitz explained. “The difference was Jarrett wore Nike and Steph wore Russell. Jarrett wanted it and asked me if I could help him find it. About a year goes by and Jarrett tears his ACL with the Nets. That week, a gentleman walks in to my store with the Marbury Georgia Tech jersey. It was his size and I started freaking out!”

“I hit Jarrett up and asked how he was doing. He was bummed that he was out for the year. I texted him a picture of the jersey and he said ‘holy f*cking shit, you found it!’ He asked how much I wanted for it, but it wasn’t about the money,” the store owner said. “We had a relationship, so I told him the jersey was his. He knew I was a Knicks fan, so he asked me to come to a Knicks/Nets game with four friends. That was just an awesome situation. That’s what I love doing — finding things for people. That was his get well gift.”

The two remain in touch. Jack thought of Spitz and quickly made it a point to share that he was signing with the avid NBA fan’s favorite team. “I’ve never had that with an athlete, where they wanted to reach out and he thought of me to share that news with. It was just so genuine, so outstanding. To me, Jarrett’s just a passionate guy. He knows I’m a Knick fan, so for him to call me, it was unbelievable. He called to let me know he was starting for the team and told me I should come out. Of course I wanted to go support him! Jarrett is someone who gives back.”

Jack is someone whose kind nature has never wavered. He remains the same both on and off the court: selfless, considerate, and willing to do what it takes to cultivate positive relationships and develop meaningful friendships. Above all else, he’s a hard worker who proved determined enough to realize his dream of being a meaningful contributor to the game of basketball once again. West is someone who continues to watch it all come to fruition.

“When [Jarrett] was doing his rehab, he was at Georgia Tech. He was in the weight room non-stop. Even when he was out, I was watching him and he was in such great shape,” he said. “He was down to his playing weight from college. He takes things seriously and put in the work. Now, he’s reaping the benefits.”

“You got to have faith. You have to go for your dreams and have discipline, be dedicated and determined. If you want the best in life, those are the basic ingredients,” his friend and author of Defend the Dream concluded.

Indeed, such a standard successfully describes Jarrett Jack the floor general, the teammate, and the man all too well.

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