Meralco defied draft projections in the 2018 rookie proceedings and drafted Filipino-American guard Trevis Jackson with the fifth overall pick.
The speedy guard at that point had only been recognized within the PBA D-League circles and for suiting up for the Philippines in the FIBA 3x3 Shanghai Challenger, but his impressive showing in the rookie combine and coach Norman Black's decision to draft the best talent available kickstarted a professional dream that started during his college days in Sacramento State.
In 35 games in his first year, Jackson averaged 11.0 minutes per game and averaged 3.7 points, 1.2 assists and 1.1 rebounds on 40.3 percent shooting from deep.
You were drafted fifth overall in the 2018 Rookie Draft, and many considered that to be a surprise move by Meralco. Did the Bolts give you any guarantees or a heads-up that they'd pick you?
There weren't really any guarantees. I was actually really nervous because I had a bone spur in my ankle, and during that time it acted up during the Gatorade combine. I told my coach at the combine, 'I don't know if I can continue.' I was pretty nervous. I felt like my draft stock might have dropped a lot after that. It was just a lot of emotions at once. I was sitting in that room, just waiting for my turn just like everybody else.
How did it feel having your name finally called?
It was like a culmination of a multitude of emotions. It all came from years of hard work, specifically within that last year in the D-League. For me, basketball has always been like that physical, mental, emotional release. And I felt like after years of college and just kind of being confused about whether or not I should keep playing basketball or whatnot, and then being told by guys like Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins while working out, like, "Keep going, keep playing," that gave me the confidence to just keep pursuing everything. So to just have all that come together at once in the draft, it was a release of everything. I was like, 'Man, that's load off my back. Now it's time to get to work and attack something new.' It was indescribable.
Did you expect you'd be a first-round pick in the first place?
Honestly, no. I was new to everything, how everything works, how the media works -- it always felt like there were more people being talked about aside from myself. And I respected that because some of these guys have been in the eye of the media longer than I have, so it's understandable. I just took it with a grain of salt and I just worked hard. I didn't sit and say, "I better be top five or in the first round." It didn't matter when I got drafted. I just wanted to get drafted and prove my ability. That's all it was.
How did your first conversations with coach Norman Black go?
It was good, man. He came to me actually right before I walked on the stage. He walked over to me and shook my hand and said, "Welcome to the team." And that's when we walked on stage. So that was cool, man, I felt embraced. I felt welcome. And it was just as a memorable experience. I'll never forget it.
Did you have any other conversations with coach Norman about your role in Meralco?
I definitely did. I was nervous because they had great veteran guards -- Baser [Amer], Anjo [Caram] were all there already, they've established themselves and gone to the finals already. I didn't come in with the mindset of, "I'm starting" or "I'm doing this." I came with a mindset of, "Hey, let me show you who I am. Let me show you how hard I work. And if I fit into your program, then okay." I always feel like I'll be able to find a way to help make any team better. And that's always been my perspective on my game since I was little. It wasn't really a matter of like being scared if I could fit in. It was more of a matter of like, "At what point will I fit in? Because this is an established team, they already have their ways and they've made it successful." So it was about me fitting in with them, not them conforming to me.
Do you remember your first game in the PBA?
Shout out to coach Louie [Alas]. We played Phoenix our first game, and I was super excited. But clearly, he had a game plan of "rough up the rookie." It woke me up. It was like, "Hey, welcome to PBA basketball." That was cool. And in a way, every rookie has to go through that. I was getting bumped by Calvin [Abueva], getting bumped by Alex Mallari. And I was like, "Okay, this is what it's about."
And I was actually so nervous because I didn't know how much I was gonna play. When the opportunity came, I just thought I'd get on the court, then I'm gonna do what I can. And I think I airballed my first shot. It was a corner three. But then after that shot, everything went away -- the butterflies, everything. And I think the next play, I threw a dime to Ranidel [De Ocampo] and he came down and tapped me and said, "There you go." And I was like, "Alright, cool. My vet has my back."
In the next game, you bounced back and had a career game against Blackwater. You had 19 points and two assists. How did you come up with that game?
I was disappointed with myself in my debut because I knew I could play better. Granted, I played like just a few minutes. So I thought I had to make that shot. If I make that shot, maybe I'll play more. That's how I saw things. And the next game, I was just locked in. My mom was coming into town, my current wife, she's here, she was visiting. And I was like, "All right, make it happen for them. And if not for yourself, make it happen for them." So as soon as I got in that game, it was just a different type of energy. I was ready this time. It wasn't like the Phoenix game where they'd rough up the rookie. It was like, "Nah, the rookie's gonna hit first."
Was that your favorite game?
Ah, no. It sucked because my favorite game of the season was the Game 3 loss in the Governors' Cup finals against Ginebra (Jackson had eight points and three rebounds in 13 minutes).
First of all, I've never played in front of that many people. So as a basketball player and a basketball fan, it was a dream come true walking into that stadium and lacing my shoes and having a jersey on. We were down 20. Call it garbage time or whatever you wanna call it, but I didn't see it like that. I saw it as, "All right, my turn." So I came in, I hit the first three and I kind of smiled. And I heard the fans on the sidelines like, "Stop smiling, you guys are losing." But in my head, there's a whole lot of momentum coming. And I had all this energy. I haven't played a lot at that conference or all year, really. So this was my first time in front of a lot of people to really just show what I can do. And within a short span of time, I did that. Next thing you know, the Ginebra chants stopped, the crowd got quiet, Allen Durham started hooping again and it became fun. I felt like I was a kid playing basketball again. And it's just what I dreamed of. It felt like I was in front of that crowd for the first time. It was just a dream come true. So that's why that game meant a lot to me.
You showed flashed throughout the season, but you only played about 11 minutes a game your entire season. Were there any frustrations about your playing time?
Of course. I feel like any player who puts in a lot of work outside of just practice will feel that way because it's what we love, it's what we're we trained to do. But at the same time, there comes a respect of understanding that it's the team game. My father instilled that in me as a young basketball player, that it's about the team, not about me. So my whole life, I've always been happier when the team thrives. Obviously, I want to be part of that. And I want to be on the court. But hey, if something else was working at the time, that's fine by me. Obviously, I'm young. And I'm continuously told that I'm young, and there's time. But sometimes I'm just like, "Man I know I got time, but why can't the time be now?" I get those feelings and I understand that it could possibly be just my young mind just acting up. But I understand the game plans and just what goes into play. So I just stay ready.
What were the biggest adjustments you had to make?
The physicality wasn't really the adjustment, because Division I basketball in America is physical. I played against Zach Lavine in UCLA, and Justin Anderson too. My biggest adjustment was actually slowing down. I'm fast. I like playing the game fast. I want to keep the game moving and keep it organized. So my biggest adjustment was slowing down, to allow things to be organized but still being able to think fast in spurts. And once I was able to do that, I felt comfortable on the floor anytime. That allowed me to stay ready.
Do you think playing against and working out with future NBA players helped you believe you could hang with the best of the PBA?
Of course. I don't think anyone would argue this, but we all look up to the NBA guys. And I think it did give me a sort of confidence and belief in myself, which at the time, I definitely needed because coming out of college, I didn't play a lot. I earned the respect of many in college because of my work ethic and my attitude and how I supported the team. So the way I was treated in college was very similar to how my rookie year went. Therefore, it was a little easier for me to understand what was happening and just take a step back and say, "Hey, I'm here for the team. it's not about me."
Can you talk about the toughest challenges you've faced during your first year?
It was hard on my mental. It was hard because I'd start a game but not play a lot. Or I just simply wouldn't play a lot. And it weighed in on my mental at times, because it was like, "I thought I could do this." And then it's almost like you're being told, "Wait." But it also comes to respecting that it's the vets' time. It's their time to go get this. Just like me, they put in years of hard work for sure. Like Baser Amer, he's a former Gilas player and he put in years of work. So that respect must be there.
And I appreciate how those guys -- Chris Newsome, Reynel [Hugnatan], Bong Quinto, Bryan Faundo, KG Canaleta, Nico Salva -- took me in and made me understand that, "You're a rookie, man. It's gonna be a mental battle for you, but we have your back." That meant a lot to me. That made everything 10 times easier. As far as challenges, I would say, yeah, it would be challenging in the moment for a second. But due to the team, I was able to overcome most of these challenges.
How would you describe your relationship with coach Norman?
I do believe he believes in me. He's telling me like, "Hey, man, you're young. You have time. Don't be frustrated." But like I said earlier, there's that part of me that's, "Yeah I know I'm young. But why not just start young?" That's how I see it, but he sees it another way at times. And that's understandable. I get where he's coming from, and it's my job to understand him and help execute his philosophy in a way. So it's like, you got to buy into the system.
What are things you learned about the PBA that you didn't know before?
I truly learned there's a lot of pride. It's like, "Hey, you don't let someone bully you." Like in my first game, I think Alex (Mallari) hit me in the chest, and coach saw it on film. He's just like, "You don't let him hit you in the chest!" It's about having that pride in this league, not just always friendly buddy-buddy with everyone. And I'm not saying I'm a buddy-buddy kind of guy. In my eyes, if you're not wearing my jersey color, you're my enemy. That's how I see the game. But just to see the emphasis put on it, that's what I'm speaking on.
And the school pride, it's so cool to see. To see Bong and Raymond [Almazan] and Bryan [Faundo] cheer for Letran and then you hear Baser and Anjo go, "San Beda!" And to see Ateneo and the others, I really enjoy that -- the pride factor when it comes how they talk about their school and whatnot. It really makes me wish or think that, "Man, I could have had a great time if I was in college here."
Do you have any other favorite or memorable moments during your rookie year?
There was a time I got put in the game against TNT, both when Terrence Jones was here and when KJ McDaniels was here. The game against Jones, I remember just thinking, "All right, he's a big guy, he dribbles high, go help your big out." And I think Cliff [Hodge] and I had a breakaway steal. I dove on the ground, tapped it, KG might have picked it up. I really think it's cool when the team comes together to take down the giant. I like things like that.
When we were playing KJ McDaniels - who just, by the way, had bounce that's out of this world, it's insane - even as a bench player predominantly in that semifinal series [in the Governors' Cup] in Antipolo, I didn't play at all that game but I just remember the preparation that went into that and how my teammates went in there and executed to pinpoint precision. When they came out, Anjo would ask, "Hey Trev, what do you see?" Or Newsome would ask me the same thing. Just to be able to contribute in that way, it was like, man, these guys trust how I see the game in big moments. It meant the world to me.
Who was your favorite player matchup in your rookie season?
Terrence Romeo. We kind of went at it in one game. It was second conference. And then I got a good defensive stop on him. And then he had like a few big threes and whatnot. He was out there a little longer than me, so it's understandable, but I appreciated the fact he hit me on social media, and was just like, "Hey, man, let's do it again next time." That was cool. The fact that he gave me that credit - I don't think I played over 10 minutes - and the fact that he shouted out and gave me that love, it was cool.
How do you plan to take your game to the next level?
You know me, I'm staying in the gym, man. But obviously, during this whole quarantine, it's a little tough. But I'm finding my ways to still compete with myself every day. You know how they say your biggest competition is yourself, that man in the mirror? He either tells you to sit down and take a day off, or he pushes you to be great. I definitely have support from my wife, and we've been able to continue our workouts. And I found myself still having that competitive spirit and that edge, so I'm just glad that that's still there. And you can only control what you can control, and that's your work ethic and your attitude. That's how I'm going to stay ready for the next year.
I haven't really touched the basketball too often because I don't have access to any hoop at all. But I'm putting a lot of trust in the fact that I've been doing this for 20 years, and I believe my jumper is still there. It's gonna take an hour to get it right, so I'm not too worried. But as long as I'm in shape, and my body is moving with me, I'm good.
Are there any aspects of your play or your mentality that you could bring from the first year moving forward?
Certainly. I was proud that whether I'm playing a lot or not playing a lot, I was the same person. I was proud that my attitude towards my team and my organization remained the same. I never got down on myself to the point I didn't feel like I could help. And I'm proud of that, because it's easy to look at the negatives and just drown yourself in them. I chose to always look at the positives and to seek the positives all times every day, whether your body's beat up or you're just exhausted. It's always better to just find the positives and everything, so I'm proud of myself for doing that every day.