January 8, 2023 

Kansas is soaring behind Taiyanna Jackson

Taiyanna Jackson has found her groove on both sides of the ball in her second year at Kansas leading to historic team success

Fourteen games into the season and it has already been historic for the Kansas program. For the first time since 2013, the Jayhawks have found themselves ranked in the AP Poll. Nobody has been more critical in making that happen than Senior Center Taiyanna Jackson.

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Last year, Jackson instantly found recognition by being named to the All-Defensive team and an honorable mention for the All-Big 12 team. The success felt immediate, but the journey was not as she took the path less traveled to Lawrence.

Jackson’s college journey began eight hours south in Athens, Texas, at Trinity Valley Community College. 

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For TVCC, Jackson averaged 10.3 points per game while winning the Region XIV Title and NJCAA Region 14 Freshman of the Year. While having success on the court, she felt she grew the most off the court. 

“Off the court, it definitely changed me as a person and how I look at things and how I was able to get through it. JUCO is totally different from D-1. Everything, the atmosphere, the people, the classes. Just prepared me for the next level and the way I look at things and handle situations on the court”, said Jackson.

When she did suit up for the Jayhawks, she was ready, feeling that she was now comfortable playing at the college level. 

LAWRENCE, KS – {Nov} 20, {2022} – center Taiyanna Jackson #1 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the game between Kansas and UTRGV at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, KS. Photo by Elicia Castillo/Kansas Athletics

“Coming out of high school, I was very nervous to play college basketball. And JUCO was definitely, I would say it was hard, but it wasn’t at the same time, especially the region I played in, but it just helped me prepare for the next level,” said Jackson to The Next.

The JUCO life can be tough. It is not what many people picture when you imagine the life of a student-athlete. For Jackson, it put into perspective just how incredible an opportunity it has been for her to play at Kansas.

“It taught me to be like very thankful for everything we get here. Like thankful for everything. Like how we fly private, all the gear we get and the unlimited gym access time. We don’t have to share a gym with three other sports, four technically, because cheer was in there too. Just being grateful for every opportunity that I have gotten at this level,” said Jackson to The Next.

The potential was clear for what Jackson could become at the Division I level during her time at Trinity Valley. When it came time for her recruitment, it was basketball that brought the Jayhawk staff and Jackson together, but the off-the-court conversations that brought her to Lawrence.

“I can say that it was about basketball probably two times out of every time we talked, and it was always about my family, how am I doing mentally and physically. They never pressured me into, oh, are you gonna come here or how do you feel about Kansas?” said Jackson.

Those relationships that got her into the Jayhawk colors have only grown in her time in Lawrence.

“I trust all my coaches, but me and Coach Brandon (Schneider), we’re very close. We’ve been close ever since the first day I got here. It’s just grown better, I would say. Like we have gotten closer. He knows me more as a player and as a person, and vice versa,” said Jackson.

LAWRENCE, KS – Jan. 4, 2023 – center Taiyanna Jackson #1 of the Kansas Jayhawks during a game between the Texas Tech Lady Red Raiders and the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, KS. Photo by Aiden Droge/Kansas Athletics

Instantly when Jackson took on the court for Kansas, she was an absolute wall on the defensive end. 

Jackson was fourth in the nation in blocks at an incredible rate of 5.7 blocks per game. This rate set a school record for total blocks throughout a season with 95.

Jackson sees it as her responsibility to be that force on the defensive end and very much enjoys it.

“Because of the way we want to play and the way we want to pressure people, my teammates know that I’m there and protecting the rim and have their back. So I really do love defense, honestly. It’s fun to block shots and disrupt people and to make people throw up silly shots or turn it over. It’s fun,” said Jackson.

The defense came naturally; the offensive side of the game needed some building. In her eyes, the talent was there, but the confidence was not.

So far this season, Jackson is averaging 15.8 points, up from 8.9 last season. Seemingly she has found the fun in that side of the ball too. Jackson credits the staff for helping her get to this point.

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“Last year, I was just the defensive threat, but my staff has always told me they know I can play. That’s why I’m here because I can also score the ball too,” said Jackson.

This Jayhawks team is flying higher than any Kansas team in the past decade. Jackson credits the on-court success with what is taking place off the court. 

“I would say the chemistry because many of my teammates have said like years prior, they didn’t hang out as much and like they didn’t get to know each other as much. Everybody can talk and we know how each player plays,” said Jackson.

Now sitting at 12-2 so far this season, Jackson has this to say to those who still sleep on the Jayhawks.

“They better wake up. That’s it. Just wake up and just watch us.”

Written by Tyler DeLuca

Tyler DeLuca has been contributing to The Next team since May 2022. Tyler currently is the Big 12 beat writer for The Next. Tyler's work is also featured on Twitter with The Committee, hosting the "Art of the Paint" podcast and on Gameday U Hoops throughout the college season.

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