Carmella Jackson spent most of her childhood around basketball, whether it was watching her family playing hoops from the stands or watching her father coach in the local parks and rec leagues.
The Charlottesville High School junior guard has found her calling on the hardwood this winter as one of the top two-way players in Central Virginia.
Jackson has been a standout defender for Coach Jim Daly the past two years, spearheading the Black Knights’ vaunted full-court press defense. She has proven she can carry the load offensively as well, combining for 29 points in two victories over Orange County and Powhatan to earn Schewels Athlete of the Week honors.
“I feel like my performances last week were a jump start for me, to show me what I am capable of,” Jackson said. “I’ve been putting a lot of time into the little things and it is all paying off.”
Jackson’s journey to basketball stardom has been a circuitous route. She didn’t take up playing the sport until middle school. Track and cheerleading were Jackson’s main sports growing up, but she gave up both to pursue her dream of basketball.
“Out of all the sports, basketball was my favorite,” Jackson said. “I felt like I was attracted to basketball so much because my whole family had played or was playing basketball, so it ran in my blood.”
Jackson started her career at Louisa County Middle School and immediately fell in love. A year later, she led the Lions’ junior varsity team to a Jefferson District title as a freshman.
The following year, she transferred to Charlottesville and learned a new system, which is built on relentless defense and athleticism that wears down the opposition.
“Playing in Coach Daly’s system was definitely different and something I had to adapt to, but the team was similar to the team I was with in Louisa,” Jackson said. “When I came into the CHS basketball program, I had to find my place on the team, but I found it easily, because the team is a fast-paced, running team.”
Outside of basketball, Jackson admitted switching schools was not easy.
“Transferring to Charlottesville was difficult at first, because I wasn’t used to the environment or the people,” she said. “I’m so used to being in the country with the people I grew up with, so it was different. But after a while, I got used to it. It took me a little while to get used to the players, but it happened slowly.”
A year later, the junior guard has found her niche in the Black Knights’ squad. She’s emerged as one of the team’s top on-ball defenders. Jackson has quick hands and feet and makes it tough for opposing teams to run their offensive sets.
“I feel like my role as a defensive leader is something for me to be proud of, because I’ve been working on defensive drills and training my feet to be faster,” she said. “It all has paid off, especially when I’m guarding the best player on the opponent’s team. In my opinion, shutting down the best player is a great feeling.”
Jackson’s offensive game also has evolved. She’s improved her perimeter shooting and has showed a penchant for finishing at the basket.
“My season was a little rough at the beginning, but it is getting better,” Jackson said. “I’m learning more and more of my capabilities. This season, I tried to add more driving ability to my game. The most underrated part to my game would probably be my dribbling, because when I first started playing ball, I couldn’t dribble at all.”
Daly couldn’t be more excited to have Jackson on his team. The junior guard leads the team in scoring, steals and assists and has emerged as a team leader.
“Carmella definitely brings a lot of fire to our team, on offense and defense,” Daly said. “She’s worked really hard to pressure the ball without fouling and she can defend anyone from the opposing point guards to posts. Offensively, she’s attacking the hoop aggressively and she can also step outside and hit three’s.”
The Charlottesville coach feels that Jackson has developed into a team leader.
“She’s consistently one of our most competitive players, pushing others in drills and small-sided games during practices that raises the level of play and energy for all of us,” Daly said.
Jackson also is a standout performer in the classroom. She’s involved in the AVID program, a college readiness program designed to help students develop skills they need to be successful in college.
Her favorite subject in school is English and she enjoys putting pen to paper.
“I like to write,” she said. “I feel like writing gets a lot off your mind when you need to.”
The junior also loves to sing. She used to sing in school, but now belts out harmonies at home with her friends. Some of her favorite artists are Queen Naija and H.E.R.
After high school, Jackson hopes to pursue a career in forensics or cardiology. The career path was motivated by a recent medical condition her mother, Peggy, experienced.
Tuesday will be a homecoming for Jackson as Charlottesville plays at Louisa County. The Black Knights (7-5, 3-3 Jefferson District) have won five of their past six games and are on a roll.
Jackson hopes that hot streak continues for the rest of the season.
“My expectation for the rest of the season are for my team to strive and do whatever we can to make it to states,” Jackson said. “It would be perfect if we won it.”