Former XU guard Dante Jackson coaches in PA now but keeps bouncing back to Cincinnati
Muskie stops by to chat with Shannon Russell
Shannon Russell | WCPO contributor
7:00 AM, Jun 12, 2017
CINCINNATI -- There's a special place in Dante Jackson's heart for his alma mater, Xavier University, a place -- and basketball program -- he said he loves "with every fiber" of his being.
The former Musketeers guard has been busy since his 2011 graduation. He was a grad assistant at Ohio University under then-coach John Groce before replicating the role at Xavier under Chris Mack. Jackson then joined Northern Kentucky University's staff as an assistant coach for one season under former coach Dave Bezold.
Bezold was fired in 2015, the staff scattered, and Jackson eventually was hired as an assistant hoops coach at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Then just this month, Jackson, 29, accepted a job as an assistant coach at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania.
The Greenfield, Ohio, native returned home for a few days to unpack and spend time with his 6-year-old daughter, Alaya, who starts second grade in August. Jackson sat down to answer a few questions about life and basketball.
How did you come to be the newest addition to the Robert Morris basketball staff?
DJ: You know what, it's crazy. The business is so weird, because quite honestly, I talked to (Xavier assistant coach) Luke Murray of all people, and I was touching base with him, and he just happens to be really good friends with Coach (Andrew) Toole. He mentioned to me in passing, 'Hey, Andy's got a spot open. Would you be interested?' And I said, 'Absolutely, for a number of reasons.' I've known Coach Toole for five or six years, and we'd kept in contact over the years. After they would win or something, I'd text him, he would text me. We knew each other, but quite honestly, Coach Murray did most of the legwork.
What are your duties as a Robert Morris assistant coach?
DJ: A little bit of everything. First and foremost, recruiting. Robert Morris is a situation where they've been good before and Coach Toole has done a great job. Recruiting's probably going to be No. 1, and then obviously the development of our players. He hasn't really defined roles in terms of whether I'll be working with post or perimeter, but I would imagine it's a combination of the two. But recruiting and development and all those things -- scouting -- and it's going to be unique. At Air Force we had so many staff members that we weren't asked to do a ton because we had so many people. Now that it's going to be what I'm going to call a normal staff, our roles are going to be expanded and we'll have a lot more to do.
Do you love basketball as much now as when you were a player?
DJ: Honestly, I do. I would say I have so much more of an appreciation for the game itself. As a player, yeah, you've got to do game-planning and workouts and all that stuff -- and I had a passion for that, don't get me wrong. But as a coach, I think it's so rewarding, whether it's putting together a game plan and seeing your players execute it or vice versa, putting it in and maybe it's not going as well as you wanted it to and making adjustments. I think it's a lot more rewarding as a coach because I think it's all about relationships. It's all about connecting with people. And that's what I love to do. Connecting with kids and parents and recruits is awesome. Really, I would say I might even love (basketball) a little more.
You have said before that you aspire to be a head coach someday. Is that still the plan?
DJ: Absolutely. I think even more so now, having worked for some of the people that I've worked for and obviously playing for the guys that I've played for. I think it's just who I am and who I want to be. I've been really fortunate and blessed to be around phenomenal basketball coaches but even better people. And so having them in my life has really only enhanced my want to be a head coach at some point.
Robert Morris is your fifth destination since college. Do you envision life as a coach being so nomadic?
DJ: You know what, it's really interesting because in a way, I feel -- and I don't point blame and I don't feel sorry for myself -- but in a way I feel like I've kind of been unlucky. But in a way I also feel like I've been very lucky. My time at NKU was so short where typically, depending on the situation you walk into, you may have three or four or five years where you can kind of get it going. I personally didn't have that opportunity at NKU. But at Air Force, we still had time on our contract and we still had an opportunity to get it going, and this opportunity presented itself. So really, to answer your question, I think it all depends on the situation you walk into. I think I'm walking into a situation now where stability isn't an issue. It's a matter of winning enough games and developing our players, winning off the court, that's going to determine how long we stay.
What's your favorite memory or game from your Xavier playing days?
DJ: My freshman year (2007-08), hitting a three to put us over the top against Georgia in the NCAA tournament. Looking back, I think as a young 16, 17-year-old kid, you don't really realize the magnitude of what's taking place. But hitting that shot was so incredible at the time and even now it's funny to think back, because we were a good team, we had great leadership. That kind of spring-boarded me to what I felt like was a halfway decent career at Xavier. I was able to contribute on a really good team that advanced in the tournament. As I look back, that's pretty big-time.
Several of your former teammates went on to play professionally while you chose the coaching route. Do you ever ponder the "what ifs" of a professional playing career?
DJ: You know, I don't, and that's kind of who I am as a person. I try not to have any regrets, kind of move forward. Now, for me, ever since I was 15, I knew I wanted to coach basketball. I knew I wanted to be around basketball. It was just an opportunity where I could go learn under Coach Groce at Ohio, and then was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to come back and work for Coach Mack at Xavier. I wouldn't change any of that for the world. I know some of my teammates are still playing and I'm super happy for them. But for me, I knew at some point in time that I was going to stop playing basketball. Whether I was 22 or I was 32, it was going to happen. And so I just knew I wanted to get into coaching and I wanted to do that when I was 23 as opposed to when I was 32 or 33.
How do you juggle coaching and traveling with fatherhood?
DJ: Honestly, it's really difficult at times. She's still at that age where she doesn't completely comprehend why I'm not around all the time. And so when I tell you it's a lot of FaceTime, a lot of Snapchatting, she has a little iPad where she'll text me all the time … We kind of went through that for the past year. And quite honestly, I'm really blessed that I get this opportunity to coach at Robert Morris because it's three hours from home and she doesn't have to be uprooted. She can stay around family and friends. I'm really fortunate, but I would be lying to you if I told you it wasn't difficult.