Ke'Asia Jackson

Charleston Southern's Ke'Asia Jackson scores for the Buccaneers. Arthur Ellis photo

The Charleston Southern women’s basketball program celebrated a milestone moment last week with senior guard Ke’Asia Jackson. On Education Day, with a gym full of screaming students from several local elementary schools, CSU recognized Jackson for scoring her 1,000th career point a few days earlier in a road game at North Florida.

While appreciative of the recognition, Jackson barely made it through the pregame presentation. Overcome with a wave of emotions that lasted throughout the game with Erskine College, Jackson managed to play 20 minutes and finished with a season-low four points.

One might wonder why a simple honor commemorating a career highlight would affect Jackson so heavily. But last Tuesday signified what has been a two-year struggle with injuries and personal pain coming to a head.

Last April, while preparing for semester exams, Jackson’s world was turned upside down with the news that her younger brother, 13-year old Travion Green, had been killed in a car accident. Step-brother Travis, 15, also died in the crash. Another step-brother, Justice, survived the accident.

As her natural brother, Jackson was closest to Travion, or Trey, as everyone knew him. She deals with her loss daily, but Tuesday hit her harder than most.

“There’s not a day that I don’t think about him, and I miss him so much,” said Jackson, a former all-state player from Irmo High School in Columbia. “Tuesday, for whatever reason, it just overwhelmed me. It was a very proud moment for me and my family, and Trey wasn’t there to share it with me, and that hurt. I started to tear up, and it was all I could do not to break down right there.”

Jackson has plenty of days where crying is the norm. Sometimes before practice, sometimes after.

Sometimes at night before she sleeps, if she sleeps. The pain and anguish takes brief breaks now and then, but never for very long.

“Every day is hard, but some are harder than others,” she says. “It’s never-ending, and I guess that’s how it’s supposed to feel. I know I miss them. I was the big sister. They looked up to me, and I lived my life to be an example to them. They were very proud of me.”

The death of her siblings is the worst part of what has been a trying two years for Jackson. As a sophomore, she earned second-team all-conference honors in the Big South, leading the league in free throw shooting and placing second in the league in field goal percentage.

After her sophomore season, Jackson opted to have surgery on a troubling Achilles injury. The surgery ended up affecting her junior season as her scoring average dropped from 15 points to 8.5 points per game.

“I never felt 100 percent, and it took a toll on me mentally,” said Jackson, who will graduate in May with a degree in accounting.

Just before the start of last season, as she was working on coming back, Trey had to have life-saving open heart surgery, which also affected Jackson mentally. During the season, she suffered a fractured nose and had to play half the season with a mask, which hindered her effectiveness.

But she managed to tough it out and went into last offseason looking forward to being at full strength for her final year. Jackson was determined to make her final season her best yet. Life was good, until the accident.

“Injuries are one thing, but this pain I feel now is far worse, mentally and emotionally, than anything I have experienced,” Jackson said. “It’s so senseless. I’m angry that it happened. I don’t understand it. But God is my strength, and he will see me through.”

As she tells it, her brothers were in a car with an unlicensed driver, out for what could be termed a joyride. Police officers became involved and the driver decided to try to outrun them. He lost control, at an estimated 80 miles per hour, and struck a tree. Trey died at the scene, while Travis died hours later at the hospital.

“All he had to do was stop, just stop the car,” said Jackson with eyes welling up with emotion. “As much as I hurt, I have learned to forgive because I just couldn’t live with that hate in my heart.”

Jackson said having her teammates and coaching staff to help on the bad days has literally saved her career. One teammate, Tierra Steed, lost her brother in October 2017. Jackson and Steed spend a lot of time together.

“We just try to be there for each other, try to help each other with the pain,” Jackson said. “Not too many people our age understand the pain, but she does, and I am so thankful for her. I don’t know if I could have made it this far without my team and especially Tierra.”

CSU coach Fred Applin preaches daily to his team about being a family. He said every member of his CSU family shares in the good and the bad.

“When one hurts, we all hurt,” the coach said. “We’ve had some tough things happen to us, to our family, but we have each other’s backs. She has good days and bad, but she knows we are here to support her. She’s a warrior, on and off the court, but warriors need guardian angels, too. I think the love we show her strengthens her.”

When it comes to motivation and inspiration, Keke and her mother, Tonya Green, lean on each other when one has a bad day.

“Keke is an inspiration to me, and I am so proud of her,” Green said. “She’s a special kid. I tell her every day she is special. We talk a lot. She checks on me and I check on her. She has a lot of tough days, and I just tell her it’s OK to have a bad day. But you have to keep fighting and moving forward. We all do, but Keke is a source of inspiration to all of us. I can’t put into words how special she is.”

As she prepares for the final two months of her final season, Jackson feels she can finish strong. Her scoring average is back to 13.6 points per game, and she feels as healthy as she has in two years. She also has extra motivation now and a better view of life on earth.

“I try not to question God’s plan because I do believe everything happens for a reason,” she said. “A lot has changed and my eyes are wide open now. I am much more appreciative of the life I have and for the people around me, my mom and my teammates. I’m going to try to live each day to the fullest and enjoy life more.

“I am dedicating it all to Trey. Trey would want me to finish strong and play hard. I want to embrace that feeling and give it all I’ve got.”

Charleston Southern plays at College of Charleston on Wednesday night.