Elijah Jackson doesn’t usually tune into ESPN’s SportsCenter, but he did last Friday.
That’s because the Churchill County High basketball star was tipped off he would be appearing on the show. Earlier that day, Jackson hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime to win the Class 3A state championship over Elko. That alone would have been a lifetime memory for Jackson.
But this wasn’t the first time it happened. One year earlier, Churchill County and Elko met in the 3A state championship game. That contest also went into overtime. And it also ended when Jackson hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer (from nearly the exact same spot on the court) to beat the Indians for the title.
Last Friday night, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt led his sportscast with Jackson’s game-winning shot in Van Pelt's popular, “Best Thing I Saw Today" segment. Later in the show, Jackson’s shot was the No. 1 play of the day on the SportsCenter Top 10.
“I was watching it live,” Jackson said. “They gave me a heads up it was going to be on SportsCenter.”
Jackson described his last week as “very surreal” and “kind of crazy.” Kind of crazy also would describe his athletic feats the last two years. As Churchill County’s starting quarterback in football, Jackson led his team to back-to-back state title games, winning the school’s second crown since 1978 during his junior season. He accounted for 5,768 yards and 76 touchdowns while going 22-2 as a starter in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
In basketball, Jackson and his teammates secured back-to-back state titles in each of the last two years after the school had not won a championship since 1971. Jackson, who scored 1,557 points in his career, averaged 19.9 points, 3.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game during his senior season.
His dual-sport skills gave him multiple options for playing at the next level. Jackson earned football scholarship offers from Nevada, Idaho, Idaho State and Montana State. But his future won’t be on the gridiron.
“I want to play basketball,” he said. “It’s where my heart is. It’s where I think I have a bigger future.”
The only issue is his college interest in basketball hasn't been as active. The 6-foot, 160-pound Jackson said he’s received calls from the College of Southern Nevada as well as Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., since his state-winning shot. Southern Oregon has been recruiting his for some time. Jackson hasn’t put a timeline on finding a school.
“The recruiting process is always tough,” Jackson said. “You want a place you can call home and can see yourself for the next four years. I think it’s tough for any athlete. It’s definitely been hard for me. When it was football season, I didn’t really know if I would get any basketball opportunities coming from a small town. I just have to have patience. Patience is the biggest thing right now.”
Jackson said Nevada hasn’t show any interest in him in terms of basketball. He played for the local AAU team Jam on It as well as a Sacramento-based team Adidas team called the EBA Pharaohs. He could attend a prep school next season to try and boost his recruitment after spending his high school career in Fallon, which has a population of 8,409 and is off the recruiting map for most colleges.
While Jackson’s future destination is unclear, his folk hero status in Fallon is cemented. Born in Houston, Jackson moved to Hawthorne, which is 120 miles southeast of Reno, when he was 8 years old. He them moved to Fallon, which is 60 miles east of Reno, when he was in the seventh grade so his mom could take care of her ailing brother. Jackson said he’s enjoyed his time in Fallon.
“It’s really cool,” Jackson said. “Everybody here kind of knows each other. The community is really nice. Everybody is outgoing and very supportive. They support sports. I would say I’ve been blessed with the group I’ve played with. The school here is very good and we’ve had great coaches and we’ve all gelled together really well.”
Since Jackson doesn’t play a spring sport, his last act in Greenwave green and white was the state-title-winning shot against Elko. The play was not designed for Jackson, who was supposed to inbound the ball with 2.8 seconds left to a teammate running a backcut. But Elko’s defense covered the play, so he went to option B, which was to inbound the ball to a teammate and get it right back to put up the best possible shot.
Jackson did just that, releasing the ball from NBA range with 1.2 seconds left. The shot splashed through the net – no rim – fractions of a second after the buzzer sounded. Jackson’s teammates mobbed him.
“Every high school basketball player dreams of that moment over and over and over,” Jackson said.
Jackson admitted he thought his game-winning shot would come up short after he released it. He had made only 2-of-8 3-pointers to that point in the game. But he still wanted to take the shot.
“Oh, I had confidence in the moment,” Jackson said. “I just wasn’t sure if it was going in or not.”
Jackson finished the game with a game-high 21 points, six rebounds and four assists. He scored a game-high 25 points in the state title win over Elko the year prior. Jackson said his favorite thing about the latest state championship is how happy it has made his hometown. Fallon has a long history of great athletes – including NFL players Harvey Dahl and Josh Mauga, Olympian Aarik Wilson and two-time NCAA volleyball champ Jennifer Hucke. Jackson is the latest star to etch his name into the city’s sports lore.
“I’ve running into people all the time who tell me, ‘I can’t stop watching the video,’” Jackson said of his game-winning shot.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.