Cedric Jackson's chance to show NBA credentials
Those who know Cedric Jackson best have a fair idea what's coming tomorrow night at the North Shore Events Centre when the New Zealand Breaker goes head-to-head with ex-NBA star Jonny Flynn.
And it could be something special, if the point guard and consensus league MVP's team-mates and coaches are any sort of judges.
The 7-2 Breakers host the struggling 2-6 Melbourne Tigers in a clash that's pretty important for both sides.
The Breakers are looking to bounce back from their second Wildcats walloping this season, while the Tigers are coming off two home losses in a row.
But it's the battle within the battle that has Breakers fans most excited.
Jackson has been the dominant point guard in the Australian league for the last two seasons, with his numbers this campaign up a notch on his championship-winning efforts of 2011-12.
But the one-time Cleveland State standout has not been able to crack the NBA, beyond three short-term stints that never led to anything substantial. And, at 26, his window is closing rapidly.
Flynn, on the other hand, has serious NBA cred. The 23-year-old was drafted sixth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009 and notched 13.5 points a game in 81 starts during his rookie season with the T'wolves.
He has been on the decline since, averaging 5.0 points in 82 games the past two seasons, and was waived by the Detroit Pistons in October. He joined the Tigers when they axed former Breaker Kevin Braswell after five games.
Which brings us to tomorrow night. NBA scouts will be watching and Jackson will be aware of the potential repercussions. Plus, this fierce competitor will be driven to measure himself favourably against NBA-level talent.
Not that you'll catch Jackson talking up his personal ambitions. He never buys into the hype around these things and consistently preaches a team-first message.
But those close to him understand the stakes.
"It's one Cedric will get up for," said Breakers assistant coach Dean Vickerman. "Flynn's is a name that's recognised in the NBA and if he has an outstanding game against him, it will carry some weight with the people he's trying to impress."
"He's been there and done that, and Cedric hasn't quite got there yet - yet being the operative word," adds Breakers guard Daryl Corletto.
"It's going to be a great matchup and I know Cedric's excited about it. He might take it a little bit personal, knowing Jonny Flynn has been in the NBA and that's somewhere Cedric wants to get to.
"That’s great for us because when Ced’s in that sort of mindset he really turns it on."
Take it from Corletto, Jackson is the sort of competitor who will thrive on this challenge.
"Cedric has a goal of making the NBA and this could be a game the scouts will watch, and that's something Cedric will take personally. I think Cedric will come out on top."
Adds Breakers forward Mika Vukona: "It's a good litmus test for Cedric. I think he should be in the NBA, Flynn has been there and it's going to be enjoyable for everybody to watch."
The only note of caution came from Andrej Lemanis. "I don't want it to turn into one-on-one contest," said the Breakers coach. "Hopefully Ced comes out and does his thing, is great on defence, takes his opportunities offensively and keeps his team-mates involved.
"If he does that it's going to help us win the game."
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