When Illinois freshman Camille Jackson signed her national letter of intent last November, she didn’t know she was entering the ground floor of a total rebuild of the Illini women’s basketball program.
She also made history. Jackson is the first athlete in the Noble School system, a public charter school system serving the city of Chicago, to sign a Power 5 program in any sport.
With new coach Shauna Green on board and an influx of young talent, there is finally some positive buzz coming from the Illinois program after years of struggle.
Since new Naismith Hall of Famer Theresa Gretz left at the end of the 2006-07 season, the Illini have had just three winning seasons. Illinois has not participated in the NCAA Tournament since 2003, a nineteen-year drought.
Enter Green, who was hired in March after a successful race at Dayton. His teams have won five Atlantic 10 regular season championships and had four NCAA Tournament appearances.
Jackson was signed at the time of Green’s hiring. She could have opted out after the coach change, but that was never seriously considered. She saw change as a good thing.
“I came here knowing a lot of changes were going to happen,” Jackson said. “I was prepared for this. Being a part of the change was what I came here for, whether I was starting out or standing next to someone who is creating change.”
Jackson said athletic director Josh Whitman kept her and her family informed during the search for a new coach and the eventual hiring of Green. She never gave up. Illinois was where she wanted to be.
There is an obvious similarity between Jackson and Ayo Dosunmu, a former All-American and Chicago Morgan Park men’s basketball player.
Like Jackson, Dosunmu bucked the trend and signed with Illini. His recruitment was a major turning point for the men’s show which was in a major crisis at the time. Jackson also played on the same AAU show as Dusunmu, the Mac Irvin Fire.
Jackson uses some of the same language Dosunmu is telling his story.
“I wanted to represent where I’m from,” she said. “A lot of good Chicago players go elsewhere. I wanted to change the narrative for players who want to go to Illinois.”
For Green, keeping Jackson could give her a key piece in reviving the show.
Jackson was a true blue chipper coming from the relatively unknown Butler College Prep. ESPN ranked her number 65 in the Class of 2022 and a first All-State selection in each of her last two seasons.
She amassed 1,402 points, 676 rebounds, 523 assists, 327 steals and 100 blocks in her 102-game prep career. She is a prototypical lead guardian who must step in and make an impact immediately.
“I like to cut, go to the basket and try to do mid-range,” Green said. “I really like to involve my teammate and in defense I try to be a power player.”
She had a certain setback. Jackson has yet to fully participate in team activities due to an undisclosed upper body injury. She expects to be released to contact in a few weeks.
Jackson should be in full swing when the season kicks off on Nov. 9 against LIU Brooklyn.
“I’ve been focusing on getting stronger and recovering from injuries and rehabilitation,” she said. “I’m thinking of coming back soon so see how I fit into the (style of) game. It’s going to be a good fit because it’s fast and there’s a lot of energy.”
With a fast-paced style of play and a revamped roster that includes two transfers that followed Green from Dayton, there’s a new energy surrounding Illini’s women’s basketball.
“I think it’s in a complete turnaround from what’s been going on for the last few years,” Jackson said. “With Coach Green, even talking to some of the older players who were here during the coach change, they see a big difference.”