Tania Jackson’s journey from Lawrence to Columbia about family, happiness

Jackson and Kulas became friends playing against each other in AAU tournaments.
Senior forward Tania Jackson defends the basket during the Southwest Baptist exhibition game at Mizzou Arena on Oct. 29. Missouri defeated the Bearcats in a 79-53 victory.

Tania Jackson is a contradiction.

She’s a senior, but she’s new to the Missouri women’s basketball program. Her family lives in Lawrence, but she left the University of Kansas. She’s ditching the white and blue for the black and gold, abandoning her hometown faithful for their storied foes.

Lawrence, Kan., is some 40 miles west of Kansas City. Approximately 120 miles to the east of Kansas City is Columbia.

Somewhere in the middle lies Jackson’s heart.

During all three of her years at Lawrence High School, Jackson played on the girls’ varsity basketball team.

Coach Kristen Mallory noticed her star player’s support for her teammates.

“She can be a great emotional leader,” Mallory said. “She’s one of those people that really gets her teammates pumped and excited.”

Not that Jackson lacked in production. Mallory said Jackson was one of the best players on the team, a team that included eventual college players Haley Parker of Emporia State and Taylor Bird of Eastern Michigan.

In the state championship her junior year, Jackson hit a 3 from the corner to tie the game with 30 seconds left.

Lawrence won.

Jackson’s performances garnered attention from multiple schools, including Missouri. She became somewhat of a local celebrity, according to Nick Wood, her high school computer applications teacher and current Lawrence High School girls’ basketball coach.

“You realize she’s not only a great basketball player but a really awesome kid as well,” Wood said.

After the state championship, Jackson tore her ACL the summer prior to her senior year. Then, despite growing up wanting to leave Lawrence, despite the fact Jackson said she “never really wanted to go to KU,” she signed with the Jayhawks, even though it wasn’t the school she was sold on.

“I don’t think Tania had great visions of where she wanted to go,” Mallory said.

That’s because she didn’t. Going to KU wasn’t so much about the school; it was about the people that would be at her games, like her father.

Jackson’s father was there for her when her biological mother was out of the picture in high school, Mallory said. His support, and his congestive heart failure, made Jackson want to stay close to home.

“I’m just a daddy’s girl,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s four years at Kansas were up and down.

After tearing her meniscus freshman year, she was labeled a redshirt. After that, she started in her first season suiting up for the Jayhawks. The next season, she played from the bench while her team made it to the first of two consecutive Sweet 16s. But even after regaining a starting role her junior season, Jackson wasn’t comfortable.

“Starting wasn’t something that I needed,” she said. “When I realized I wasn’t happy still, that’s when I had to leave.”

Looking back on it, Jackson said she stayed at Kansas longer than she should have. Deciding to leave Lawrence, and leave her father, was tough for Jackson. She wanted her dad to come to every home game of her senior year, since she didn’t play a minute of her final high school season.

“My dad was a major factor in staying so long,” Jackson said. “I guess it just really took me looking in the mirror and realizing this wasn’t where I wanted to be.”

But Jackson’s father supported his daughter’s decision to transfer. He understood her desires and stood beside them.

So, of the schools she considered transferring to, Jackson picked the one closest to home: Missouri.

Jackson remembers liking her unofficial visit to Missouri in high school.

In college, when Jackson decided to transfer, she liked coach Robin Pingeton.

“I just fell in love with the way (coach Pingeton) coaches,” Jackson said. “The relationships she builds with her players is something she takes very seriously, and that’s something I looked for in a coach.”

Jackson wasn’t alone when she transferred since she knew someone on the team. Jackson and Bri Kulas, Missouri’s leading scorer, have been friends since meeting on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit in high school.

“It was definitely easier to say, ‘I’m definitely coming to Missouri,’ because I had someone here that I knew for seven or eight years,” Jackson said.

It wasn’t a sure thing that Jackson was coming to the Tigers, though.

The Southeastern Conference has a rule that prevents players with one year of eligibility remaining from transferring to any other conference team. However, because Missouri offers a master’s degree in personal finance and Kansas does not, Jackson received a waiver from the SEC and transferred in August.

Today, Jackson’s concerns are about getting on the court. She has a nagging knee injury that limits her practice time. In the Tigers’ first three games, Jackson is averaging just over nine minutes per game.

Pingeton said her main concern with Jackson is having the senior healthy for conference play.

Both Kulas and Pingeton said Jackson brings something to the team that no injury can take away: experience.

“She’s been through the trenches before,” Pingeton said. “She’s been a part of a program that’s had success and she knows what it takes.”

So while she’s still getting used to her new school and feels uncertain about when she will be at full health, Jackson knows at least one thing for sure.

“I’m happy with my decision,” she said.

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