The way Bill Jackman tells the story, Mike Krzyzewski had driven to Grant, Neb., to get Jackman’s signature on a national letter of intent to play basketball at Duke and needed to get out of town quickly.
It was the national signing date in 1982, Jackman said, and the Duke coach had other stops to make, the Jackman house being the first at breakfast. He had the long drive to Denver, Colo,, and a flight to catch, with little time to spare.
Running a little late, Jackman said, Krzyzewski was speeding out of town and ...
“The sheriff pulled him over,” Jackman said in an N&O interview Wednesday. “Coach K said, ‘Uh, oh, if this is a Nebraska fan I’ve had it.’ The sheriff said he was going like 80 in a 55.
“But Coach K said he knew he was going to be OK when he saw the officer’s name tag was like “Officer Kedrowski.’ He told him he had just signed me and the officer saw his name was ‘Krzyzewski.’ The officer goes, ‘Hey, there aren’t many of us out here in this neck of the woods. Just slow it down and I’ll give you a warning.’”
Maybe it was at that moment, on the side of the road outside Grant, Neb., that Krzyzewski, coming off an 11-17 season at Duke, needing a strong recruiting class to possibly save his job, could sense things were finally turning in his favor. All it took was a trip to Grant, Jackman signing and a sheriff with a sense of humor and Polish background.
Jackman was an early commitment to Duke despite nearly everyone in the state of Nebraska wanting the 6-8 forward to go to the University of Nebraska. After his senior season, a petition with 14,000 names was presented to Jackman, pleading that stay-home case.
But Jackman became the first member of what became the Duke class of 1986. He would join Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas, David Henderson and Weldon Williams in a recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in 1982, a group that would win the 1986 ACC championship and take Coach K and Duke to the top of the polls, the No. 1 team in the country, going into the 1986 NCAA Tournament.
Leaving Duke for Nebraska
The ACC Network, which launches Thursday, is airing on its first night the “The Class That Saved Coach K,” a documentary that focuses on Jackman’s recruiting class. Jackman was asked to be a part of the documentary, saying he was “pleasantly surprised” to be contacted while realizing it would have been understandable if he wasn’t.
Jackman transferred from Duke to Nebraska after his freshman season. There were some serious family issues at home in Grant, he explained Wednesday, and he had to go back. It had nothing to do with a lack of playing time, Duke, Durham or talk about Coach K being fired.
“Some people were saying it was a sinking ship and we should leave,” Jackman said. “That’s crazy. Didn’t even listen to that.”
By 1986, the Cornhuskers had an NCAA tournament team in what would be their final year under coach Moe Iba. They opened NCAA play in Charlotte, where Jackman mostly sat as the Cornhuskers played.
In a 1986 interview with the N&O after one of the NCAA games, Jackman spoke wistfully about his former teammates, about their success, about what Alarie told him when they first met at Duke in the fall of ‘82.
“Mark said something like, ‘We’ve got a great four years ahead of us. Some big things are going to happen before we’re through,’” Jackman said. “Mark hit it on the button, didn’t he? I’m happy for the guys, I really am. I know what they’ve been through.”
Duke didn’t win the 1986 national championship, losing to Louisville in the final game in Dallas. But when the university feted the 1986 team with a 20-year reunion, Jackman said he was invited back by Krzyzewski’s wife, Mickie.
“We were taking pictures of us and some people were pointing at me like, ‘Is that the water boy?’” Jackman said Wednesday, laughing.
A little tall for a water boy. And while Jackman did become a forgotten man as the years passed, as Coach K won more than 1,000 games and five national titles, he said he will always feel a part, if fleetingly, of what Krzyzewski was building at Duke and connected to a coach who was honest with recruits, being true to himself and the things he believed.
“I loved my time there and he’s such a great mentor from a distance,” Jackman said of Duke and Krzyzewski. “He’s had a great influence on me over the years to just kind of raise my game, right? Don’t just settle for things.
“I’ve kept an article in my Bible all these years. He said you’ve got to be very careful of letting other people define your success. Different people define success differently.”
Duke’s class of 1986
Jackman said Krzyzewski first spotted him at an invitation-only B/C All-Stars basketball camp in Milledgeville, Ga., and again at a tournament in Las Vegas. In Vegas, Jackman had joined other prep players from Nebraska -- including Ron Kellogg, headed to Kansas, and Kerry Trotter, who played at Marquette -- in putting together a talented team.
The Duke class came together. Jackman believes he was the first to commit, before his senior season in Grant. Williams was next, he said, then Alarie and Bilas.
Dawkins, the speedy if spindly guard out of Mackin High in Washington, D.C., was being pursued by Maryland coach Lefty Driesell. Jackman said Driesell, a master recruiter, had Dawkins in some swanky place overlooking College Park, Md., and asked Dawkins if he planned to play for Maryland.
Dawkins’ answer, Jackman said: “I have so much respect for you I’m going to play at the place you played at.”
That would be Duke, where the Ol’ Lefthander played center under coach Harold Bradley in the early 50s, and not the answer Lefty wanted to hear.
One player Coach K didn’t get, Jackman said, was Joe “JoJo” Buchanan, a 6-2 guard from Seattle who went to Notre Dame instead of Duke. In 2006, Buchanan told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “Johnny Dawkins went there because I didn’t.”
When Jackman graduated from Nebraska, Danny Nee was coaching the ‘Huskers and was blunt with Jackman, an Academic All-America.
“He told me I was a better student than I was an athlete, which crushed my basketball ego,” Jackman said. “He also told me don’t stay in Nebraska. He said, ‘You love the people here and you can always come back, but if you stay here people will always talk about a particular game and want to buy you a beer and you’ll be the drunk at the country club. Don’t be the drunk at the country club when you’re 45.’”
Pickup basketball with Tom Dundon
Jackman left Nebraska. He did play professional basketball overseas for a few years before getting into the finance business.
Now living in Dallas and a father of three, he’s a senior vice president for UBS, a wealth management company. At 55, he says he still plays hoops and can still dunk, noting some of his past pickup games included a lefthanded shooter named Tom Dundon, later to be the primary owner of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Jackman said he attended the Duke-St. John’s game last season at Cameron Indoor Stadium and was able to visit with Coach K. Jackman said while being recruited by Duke he was told the staff called him Coach K but that a graduation requirement would be that a player correctly say his coach’s name and spell it.
Jackman didn’t graduate from Duke. Can he spell the name?
“K-R-Z-Y-Z-E-W-S-K-I,” he said without hesitation.
‘The Class that Saved Coach K’
When: 9 p.m., Thursday
Watch: ACC Network