Column: Helicopter parents are complicating the game, as evidenced by Vance Jackson’s father

Freshman forward Vance Jackson dunks on the Houston defense during the Huskies 74-65 victory over the Cougars on Friday, March 10, 2017 during the American Athletic Conference Championship. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The offseason has been an eventful one for the UConn men’s basketball team. Sophomore forward Steven Enoch announced he was transferring. Associate head coach Glen Miller was fired, and recently replaced with Washington’s Raphael Chillious. Oh, and star freshman forward Vance Jackson announced via Twitter that he was transferring.

Um, what?

Jackson was integral to UConn’s long-term plan. He was a no-doubt starter next season. With a year of experience, his role as a mentor and someone who had experience with Jalen Adams and Christian Vital was essential to the success of the team.

So why did he decide to leave? What about UConn—about Kevin Ollie—did Jackson not find fitting?

The answer may lie beyond the court.

The New Haven Register’s Dave Borges reached out to Jackson’s father, Vance Jackson Sr., to try and find answers. Jackson Sr. has been outspoken on Twitter all season about his son’s playing time and utilization during games. Unfortunately, he locked his Twitter account, so trying to find those tweets isn’t practical.

But an excerpt from Borges’s story really, really caught my attention.

“’We talked it over, and for him to pursue his dreams, this was best for him,’ Jackson Sr. said. ‘We didn’t see things the same way, Vance, and me, and the coach, on how to utilize his skills. We wanted the best opportunity to utilize those skills, and it didn’t happen here.’”

“We?” Since when did Jackson Sr.’s opinion about the future of his son’s career carry as much weight as Vance himself?

This isn’t the first time this has happened at UConn. Alex Oriakhi, the starting power forward on UConn’s 2010-11 championship team, transferred before his senior season because of the 2013 postseason ban. While it’s a big deal that he left, the thing that made his departure unique was the fact that his father, Alex Oriakhi Sr., announced his transfer, not him.

Oriakhi’s father was boisterous. He called for Jim Calhoun to be fired after his son left, constantly criticized Calhoun on Twitter and even challenged the writers at The UConn Blog to a fight. He drew controversy because he was, by extension, a representative of UConn, and his conduct was rude, brash and impulsive toward fans. He was a helicopter parent in every sense, clearly having a heavy hand in his son’s collegiate career.

A more modern, but non-UConn example is Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar Ball. He is using the stardom of his son to power his own virality, taking shots at his son’s high school coach and exuding the brand of “madness” that defines helicopter parents. He yelled at Stephen A. Smith on “First Take” that his son is better than Steph Curry and more advanced at this stage in his career than Michael Jordan. 

Jackson Sr. is clearly not as bad as Ball and Oriakhi Sr. But even though Vance announced his intent to transfer on his own, the fact that his father was the one to offer quotes caught my attention.

Jackson Sr. talked about his son’s career as if it was intertwined with his own life path. “We” didn’t think Vance’s skills were being utilized. “We” didn’t think Vance could pursue his dreams here. Since when is Jackson Sr. on the court, in practices, constantly communicating with Kevin Ollie?

Now, it would be ludicrous to suggest that Vance’s dad forced him to leave; I’m sure Vance must have clashed a bit with Ollie’s coaching style and plans for him, which was most likely the same reason why Enoch left.

Recently, a year-old video of a Geno Auriemma press conference has gone viral. In the rant, Auriemma says kids are too worried about how they’ll meet their parents’ lofty demands, rather than working as a team player. I can’t say for certain if Jackson Sr. would fall into this category, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he constantly planted expectations in his son’s head with the expectation that the demands will be met.

Taking to Twitter to complain that his freshman son isn’t getting 40 minutes of playing time is not letting Vance be Vance. Constantly voicing his concern that Vance, despite being a starter for 21 games, wasn’t being utilized exactly to his liking is an overreach. 

What’s interesting is that Vance was anything but selfish—once he saw that his performance was better when he took less shots, that’s exactly what he did. I guess taking seven shots per game wasn’t on his father’s agenda. Maybe his father would rather Vance be a star that takes 15 shots per game on a worse team, starting every single game and only sitting on the bench to catch his breath. 

Vance has tried to distance himself from this speculation, tweeting that the decision was something he made himself. Maybe this is true, maybe it’s not, but Jackson Sr.’s heavy involvement in his son’s life parallels Oriakhi in such a stark way that you can’t take it with a grain of salt.

Helicopter parents like this foster the trend we see so often in sports nowadays. If their kids aren’t the star, aren’t making 15 shots per game and aren’t playing every single minute, they get offended. They constantly push their kids to be the best, without taking into consideration the importance of team dynamics. While the choice to leave was ultimately Vance’s, to deny that his father had more than a significance influence in this would be ignoring all the evidence right in front of us.


Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.