Chrisman alum savors D-II national title with Northwest Missouri

By Bill Althaus

Isaiah Jackson enjoyed more than his share of special moments while a standout guard for the William Chrisman Bears basketball team.

There was the last-second, game-winning jump shot to win the Phog Allen Classic on his home basketball court, the all-conference and all-state recognition and sharing The Examiner's Player of the Year award his senior year with friend and Truman rival Kaden Lennox.

But none of those accolades can match what happened Saturday afternoon in Evansville, Indiana, where Jackson and his Northwest Missouri State University teammates crushed No. 1 seed West Texas A&M 80-54 to claim their third NCAA Division II national title in the past five seasons (there was no national championship in 2020).

His Bearcats defeated their final three opponents by a total of 78 points, breaking the Division II record for margin of victory of 75.

As the game ended and the postgame celebration began, the freshman – who went from the 10th man on the team to the first player off the bench – laid on his back and made snow angels in the piles of confetti on the court.

"It didn't seem real then, and it still doesn't seem real," said Jackson, who was back in a Maryville, Mo., classroom Monday afternoon for an in-person calculus test. "The test seemed real, the national championship still hasn't sunk in.

"I know it happened, and that was what I dreamed about when I signed with Northwest Missouri State, but to have it happen my freshman year is just surreal."

And here's some bad news for future Bearcat opponents: every member of the 28-2 national championship team can return next year because of NCAA COVID rules that basically make this a free year.

"I could win five national championships," Jackson said, chuckling, "not that I'm predicting that or anything, but we're going to be good for a long time."

Slowly seeing more time throughout the 2020-21 season, Jackson finished his freshman year averaging nine minutes played, with 1.6 points, 1.4 rebounds per game and 10 total steals.

Jake Kates, his high school coach at Chrisman, could not attend Saturday's title game because he was hosting a combine where area college coaches could come watch and work out unsigned players from the area.

"We had 20 college coaches in our gym and I'd sneak into (activities director) Greg (McGhee's) office to see what was going on in the game," Kates said. "They got that big lead early, so there wasn't a lot of doubt as to who would win."

Moments after the Bearcats' victory, Kates received a text from Jackson, that forced to once again retreat to McGhee's office.

"I got a text from Isaiah, read it and started to cry," Kates said. "He talked about he learned to be a leader in our program, and we talked about how he could find the leaders at Northwest Missouri State. He's a freshman, and he was a leader here for a long time, and sometimes, it's hard to go from one role to another.

"But he told me he had found the leaders and watched them and that's how he went from the 10th guy to the first guy off the bench, someone his coach could trust in any situation."

Kates forwarded the text to Bearcats coach Ben McCollum.

"I wanted him to know what type of player and person he got in Isaiah, and he replied back, 'We know.'"