It’s truly ‘March Madness’ for Hughes family of Roseville
BY JOE DAVIDSON, SACBEE.COM
This time every year, Mark Hughes reaches for the hardware.
He’ll dust off the 1989 NCAA national championship ring, look at it with the admiration of a jeweler studying a rare stone, and slip it onto his finger. It’s a timeless treasure that never grows old.
Hughes was a co-captain for Michigan in 1989 when the Wolverines beat Seton Hall 80-79 for its first and only men’s basketball championship. These days, he’s enjoying another dose of March Madness. This one is tied to his son, Jackson Hughes, a steady senior guard for the top-ranked high school boys team in Northern California.
Jackson and his Woodcreek Timberwolves teammates will play nationally ranked Bishop Montgomery of Torrance for the CIF State Open Division championship on Saturday night at Golden 1 Center.
As much as Mark Hughes enjoys showing off his ring, he’s even more proud about the exploits and efforts of his son, though he’s sure to remain in the background and not overstep his place. Hughes is plenty busy in his basketball life otherwise. He is the director of player personnel for the New York Knicks, a gig that requires a lot of travel and talent evaluation. And, yes, he grades his son favorably.
“Oh, it’s been so much fun watching this team and to to see my son having so much fun,” Hughes said. “And he plays the game the right way. That’s something my dad told me: It’s a five-man game. Everyone has a role. Be a team guy.”
Jackson is all of those things, cheering for his teammates on the bench as hard as he plays when he’s on the court. His three-point play against Sheldon in the Northern California championship on Saturday at Santa Clara gave Woodcreek a 58-53 lead with 2:07 to play. And there was pop, dancing in the Leavey Center seats, his wife and one-time Michigan sweetheart, Ronna, joining in.
Hughes said he is more stressed as a fan than he was as a player or coach. He suited up for Michigan from 1985-89, a defensive-minded forward/center. He played nine seasons of pro ball, including stints in France and Italy. He coached in the CBA and had assistant NBA stints with the Magic (2002-04) and the Kings (2006-07). Hughes was a scout with the Knicks from 2007 to 2011 and has worked in the team’s front office since 2011.
“I’m extremely nervous watching Jackson,” Hughes said with a laugh. “When you play, the butterflies go away. As a coach, you have even less control, and as a parent you have zero control of what’s going on in the game.”
Jackson said he feels “very lucky and blessed to have a dad like this, who knows the game and cares.”
The Hughes family soaked in Michigan’s triumph of second-seeded Louisville on Sunday from their Roseville home. This came the day after the biggest moment of Jackson’s basketball life.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to win like this,” Jackson said Saturday night. He added that his father offers insight to the game: how important it is to approach big games, to remain poised, play with enthusiasm.
And the one-on-one duels between father and son? Quite lopsided. The 50-year-old Hughes still has plenty of game, according to Jackson, who said he’s no talent evaluator but knows a good big when sees one.
Hughes is 6-foot-10, and he towers over his 6-1 son.
“He beats me all the time,” Jackson said with wide-eyed emphasis. “And he doesn’t bully me with his size. He kills me with finesse and skill. I’ve beaten him once in my life. I’ll get him, though.”
Hughes isn’t so sure.
“Absolutely, I beat him,” Hughes said with a laugh. “I remind him all the time that I played a long time. But it will run out, and when it does, when I can’t shoot, I’ll have to just back him down and score. But not yet.”
Hughes has also offered Jackson insight on how to approach college. It is every kid’s dream to play Division I ball, but Jackson understands that there isn’t much demand for 6-1 off-guards in the D-I ranks. He has signed on to play at Menlo College, a small school in Atherton. And there’s a good message here. The right fit matters more than who plays on national television.
“I’m excited to go there,” said Jackson, who wants to study psychology and business. His father graduated with a degree in sociology from Michigan.
“Our conversations about college were: ‘What do you want to do as a player, and what do you want to study?’ ” Hughes said. “ ‘What is your goal as a player?’ When I went to Michigan, I hardly played as a freshman. Some don’t play until their senior years. There are a lot of great schools out there, small colleges. He said he wanted to play as a freshman. Menlo wanted him, and he likes to school. Go where you feel comfortable.
“And it’s not too far for us. I told him, ‘You know what, buddy? We still get to see you play.’ ”