Jackie Carmichael hopes to have a lot to cheer about at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. (WJBC photo/B Corbin)
By Bryan Bloodworth
The numbers speak for themselves when describing Jackie Carmichael’s basketball career at Illinois State.
The 6-foot-9 senior forward will be hailed as one of the best players to ever wear a Redbird uniform as he should. He’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Doug Collins, Jeff Wilkins and Bubbles Hawkins – the only male players in ISU history to have their jerseys retired by the school.
He is among only 12 players in the 100-plus-year history of the Missouri Valley Conference to score over 1,500 points and handle over 900 rebounds.
He will finish as ISU’s all-time leading shot blocker. He currently has 192 ahead of Friday’s 8:30 p.m. game against Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis.
And he’s likely to finish third in career rebounds and eighth in points scored, not to mention being in the top 10 in numerous other categories.
“It’s been more than I could have ever expected,” said Carmichael. “I’ve met a lot of great people here and been able to do some great things.
“I really only went through one bad season; my sophomore year when we had a losing record. No player ever wants to experience that, but going through something like that can only make you a stronger person.”
Carmichael came to ISU with one goal in mind – something he believes is the biggest obstacle he’s overcome – and that was prove himself as a basketball player.
“I wanted to prove to people that I can play with some of the best players in the country,” he continued. “I think I’ve been able to do that.”
Carmichael participated in a number of sports while growing up in Manhattan, Kan. Track was his first love, but he shifted his emphasis to basketball because of his size.
"I was always taller than everyone else in my class," added Carmichael. "In sixth grade I was 6-5. That's when I thought basketball might work out for me."
He finished fifth at the state track meet his senior year in the 400-meter dash with a time of 47 seconds. It was good enough for Kansas State to offer him a scholarship, but by that time Carmichael was committed to basketball.
Despite earning Class 6A (large school) all-state honors his senior year after averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, Carmichael was not recruited very heavily. His biggest offer came from Kansas State as a walk-on.
“I really didn’t get recruited the way I wanted to out of high school, so that’s why I went to Prep School,” said Carmichael, who ended up at ISU in a rather unusual way.
“I was being recruited by a couple of schools and I came home for spring break. Illinois State was playing at Kansas State in the NIT and I went to the game. I met Coach Jank (former ISU coach Tim Jankovich) and the players and thought it would be a good fit.
“I took a one-day visit to campus, which was kind of unheard of because you have to cram everything into one day, and absolutely loved it. It reminded me so much of home. I signed a couple of weeks later and a lot of people were surprised.
“They couldn’t understand why I would sign here, but they didn’t understand the intangibles about the school. Those were the things that I loved about it so much – the people surrounding the school, the hometown feel, and how comfortable everyone made me feel. They treated me like they'd always known me.”
Carmichael was named to the league’s all-freshman team and blossomed into a second-team selection last year, along with most improved team and all-defensive team honors.
“Coach Jank was really hard on me my freshman and sophomore years,” said Carmichael. “He just wanted so much for me. He saw where I could be by the end of my career.
“When I didn’t do things just the right way he would get on me. He just instilled a perfectionist attitude in me. He just really made me do things the right way and kept telling me it would help make me a better player.
“It finally clicked with me in the summer between my sophomore and junior year that he just wanted me to be the best I could be. That’s why he was so hard on me and now I’m thankful for him that he did it.”
Carmichael naturally wants a career in the NBA.
“I hope I’m blessed enough to be able to have that opportunity,” he said. “But first I really want to finish my career here strong and be able to take us to the NCAA Tournament.”
He deserves it and not just because he is a very talented basketball player. He is truly one of the most humble and approachable athletes this reporter has met in 35-plus years in the business.
(Laura Ewan, Jackie Carmichael, Colleen Reynolds
and Beth Whisman)