For Dillard’s Adriiana Jackson, hoop dreams go beyond basketball
The senior guard has a nonprofit to teach life lessons and fundamentals of the game
Every time Adriiana Jackson laces up her sneakers to hit the basketball court, she thanks God. The 5-foot-2-inch point guard is a starter on the women’s basketball team at Dillard University, where she averages 13.5 points in a game.
Her Christian faith has given her the strength to move forward and the motivation to give back to her community. As a result, the Houston native and public health major created a nonprofit organization, Roiiyal Ink, in 2016 to help mentor and prepare young women for their college education.
This 21-year-old senior guard is on a mission to help young women at the middle and high school levels. Jackson hosts training camps in the summertime primarily for young women who hoop and also lets middle school boys participate.
“My goal is just to be as transparent and informational and helpful for the young athletes coming up,” she said.
The camp was started in 2016 at Houston’s North Shore High School, Jackson’s alma mater. For two years now, about 50 young women have come to hear her story and improve their jumpers even if they don’t live in Houston. After the drills, Jackson makes sure to hit on topics such as nutrition, balancing sports with their studies, and life after basketball.
“It’s super important for kids to understand that one day basketball comes to an end,” she said. “You never know when your expiration date will be.”
There are many programs that primarily focus on basketball fundamentals and nothing more, she said. She wished there was a program like hers while she was growing up. It is so easy to suffer from an injury in seconds.
“You have to be more than just basketball, because you are more,” she tells students. “Some people are never told that and some people are never taught that.”
Jackson’s camp wouldn’t be possible without the help of her family and coaches from Houston schools who helped her along the way. Alexia Thomas, assistant basketball coach at Westside High School, has been part of the camp since it started. Thomas and Jackson met seven years ago while playing on an AAU team.
“That was a big thing for us to come back to our high school where we started and get young girls involved in our vision,” Thomas said. “Building an organization that impacts the city not just for a couple of years but expanding it to something that is ongoing.”
But it doesn’t stop there for Jackson. She uses the attendees’ camp fees to provide scholarships. Jackson charges an early bird fee of $35; the regular fee is $45.
“I wanted to support HBCU [historically black college and university] students. It’s not limited to HBCU students, but that’s my primary focus,” she said. “I was fortunate enough and blessed enough to be able to receive an athletic scholarship. Not many people are that fortunate.”
So far, Jackson has awarded four $500 scholarships. The scholarship money comes out of her own pocket from donations and the camp fees. Jackson knows getting a scholarship can be difficult. Not everyone who deserves a scholarship receives one.
“Even when it comes to the academic scholarships, not everyone has 3.0 or the 4.0 GPA but that doesn’t mean they’re not smart or shouldn’t be awarded,” she said.
During last year’s camp, she noticed one of the seniors dominating the court. The camper joked with Jackson about asking for a scholarship.
“Seniors aren’t obligated to come because your season is over,” Jackson said. “If practice is over, they are walking out the gym and if it isn’t mandatory, they aren’t putting in that extra work. That’s what stood out to me. She put in that extra work.”
At the end of the camp, Jackson surprised Maniya Watkins with a scholarship to help her attend Northwest Kansas Technical College. Jackson saw so much potential in the camper that she told her coach.
“When my coach told me she decided to give me the scholarship, I was ecstatic and started crying,” said Watkins.
The 18-year-old saw that she was the oldest one on the court, which bothered her, but she wanted to make sure she took in everything Jackson taught.
Watkins thinks of Jackson as mentor because she currently plays at the collegiate level.
“I remember hearing all the accolades and things she received as a player, so I was really inspired and intimidated by her,” she said.
By keeping camp fees low, Watkins provides an opportunity for students who can’t afford more expensive programs.
“It spoke volumes about her [Jackson’s] character. She loves the sport and does understand that not everyone has it,” Watkins said. “People might have the work ethic but maybe they don’t have the money to get on an AAU team or have the money to go to the Nike camp.”
Dillard was her refuge
In 2016, Jackson left the Houston Baptist University team, where she was getting playing time as a freshman.
“It was really new for me. It wasn’t really a fit for me, the school [Houston Baptist] was too controlling for me. I couldn’t really be my full potential self,” she said.
Jackson said that she felt pressured to play on a Division I team because of her dad.
“It was my choice to leave. I was the leading freshman scorer of my team. I was getting minutes. I was producing,” she said.
Jackson says college is about the experience, making connections and figuring out who you are as a person. Once she stepped onto Dillard’s campus, she said, she knew she belonged and would be able to thrive.
“Transferring to Dillard was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me,” she said. “At Dillard, I’m allowed to be every piece of myself and explore every piece of myself that I had. And it’s supported from the coaches, to the president and students.”
At Dillard, Jackson is part of a mime ministry with Ki’Anna Hall, a sophomore studying theater arts, called Khaotic Mime. Hall is also on Dillard’s basketball team, so the sport helped them collaborate in a creative way.
“In today’s time, a lot of people think mime is just like dancing or entertainment,” she said. “In my opinion, I feel like mime is just as powerful as hearing the word being preached.”
The duo has been asked to mime many places and their videos engage thousands of viewers.
“If you’re really studying the Bible, and you’re really studying the world and studying the song, then the goal is to be able to portray whatever God has put on your heart … and bring that to life within the song with your dance,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s friends, family and team have noticed the changes that Jackson is making for her community through basketball and prayer.
“She has a heart for people. That probably comes from her mother. Her mother is a really giving person,” said Dillard women’s basketball coach Norbert Rome. “She always wants to see other people do well, and she’s so giving of herself.”
Rome has had the chance to witness Jackson grow. It will be a bittersweet moment for him when he watches one of his most talented players graduate in May.
“That’s going to be the ultimate emotional moment for me, that’s huge. For everything we have went through, player and coach, that’s going to be the ultimate reward,” he said. “She has a big place in my heart.”
In the beginning of every season, Rome sits down with his players to discover their personal and team goals and how they can put them into action.
After college, Jackson wants to attend divinity school at Duke or Yale. She also wants to build her own school to teach ministry, basketball, and most importantly, life lessons. Lastly, she envisions her nonprofit Roiiyal Ink to operate somewhere in Africa. And in three years, Jackson wants to open part of her camp to high school boys.
“I want it to grow, of course. I want it to be something as big as in every state like the YMCA,” she said. “I aspire to create my own lane where other people have the opportunity to know they can do the same.”