Sherri Coale has been around basketball long enough to know how to spot a future coach.
The Oklahoma women’s basketball coach said it doesn’t matter whether a player is a point guard, forward, or center. She said the key to spotting a player who looks like she will have an ability become a coach is finding an individual who can convey what they know about the game to their peers.
Coale didn’t have to watch Dionnah Jackson long to figure out she had a future coach in the making.
“Dionnah was incredibly conscientious as a player,” Coale said. “She wanted to do things right, she wanted to make people around her better, and she did her due diligence to the nth degree. She always wanted to learn more about things and how you did something or why you did something that way. She was never satisfied. She had an insatiable appetite about the game.”
Jackson’s “appetite” helped her become an All-America point guard at Oklahoma. She parlayed that into a professional career that included stops in the WNBA and in Europe and a coaching career that saw her work as an assistant at Southeast Missouri State and at George Mason.
Jackson’s next stop will take her to Mississippi State, where she will replace assistant coach Aqua Franklin on coach Vic Schaefer’s staff. The hiring was announced Monday.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to add Dionnah Jackson to our staff,” Schaefer said in a statement released by MSU. “She really fits what I feel like are the important attributes and qualities we needed to add here at Mississippi State,” Schaefer said. “In addition to having five years of coaching experience, she also brings the experience of having played professionally following an All-American career under a Hall of Fame coach in Sherri Coale at Oklahoma.
“Dionnah has competed at the highest level, including a national championship game, so she will be a great addition to our staff from a competitive standpoint as well as being a great coach and teacher for our point guards. We have six national championship rings on our coaching staff, and now with Dionnah we have added an eighth Final Four ring. I took my time in making this decision because I wanted to make sure we got the very best person as well as the very best coach for the job. I believe we found that person in Dionnah.”
Jackson will work with MSU’s guards, just like Franklin, who left the program earlier this year to become associate head coach at Kansas. Coale expects Jackson to flourish in her new role. She said Jackson is unique in this day and age because she wants to learn and that she has allowed that mentality to dictate her career path.
“She has been a rapt attention payer,” Coale said. “She has used her years as a coach to really learn and to discern between what she thinks is effective and what is not quite as effective and figure out what kind of coach she wants to be. … She has really paid attention and meticulously built this ladder and climbed along on an idea that is not that in vogue anymore in that I am going to learn. It is not ‘I have to get that job or that job,’ it has been, ‘I want to learn, I want to learn, I want to learn. That is pretty rare. There is a bit of an old soul in her. She is not about where she can go to get the most money or the most prestigious job. She wants to have the ability to learn.”
Jackson played 131 games with the Sooners and averaged 11.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. Jackson claimed honorable mention All-America honors and was a finalist for the Wade and Naismith national player of the year awards. She finished her career in the top 10 of 17 of Oklahoma’s 22 all-time record lists, including ranking second in assists (606), third in steals (265), fourth in rebounds (829), fifth in blocks (64), and ninth in scoring (1,491).
As a senior, she earned first-team All-Big Conference 12 accolades after landing second-team honors her junior and sophomore seasons. As a junior, she was also named Big 12 Tournament MVP after leading Oklahoma to the second league title of her career.
In addition to the pair of Big 12 titles, the three-year starter and a three-year team captain led Oklahoma to the NCAA tournament all four years, including the program’s first Final Four and a runner-up as a freshman.
Jackson was selected by the Detroit Shock in the 2005 WNBA draft. In 2007, she was picked up by the Chicago Sky and also played in Israel for Maccabi Tel Kabir. Jackson also spent tenures playing overseas in Switzerland and Greece.
As a coach, Jackson started her career at Southeast Missouri State, where she helped Kara Wright to the Ohio Valley Conference All-Newcomer Team, the program’s first all-conference honor since 2008-09, and Bianca Beck to an overseas professional contract in her three years at the school.
Jackson then moved to George Mason, where she spent two seasons and tutored Taylor Brown to the team’s scoring title both years. Last season, Brown claimed second-team all-conference honors after averaging 21.4 points per game and setting a school single-season record with 643 points.
“I’m really excited to be at Mississippi State,” Jackson said in a statement. “In talking with coach Schaefer, he was looking for a good fit. My staff at George Mason was great, and I wanted to keep that family atmosphere.
“This program definitely has a family feel, but that also carries over to the entire University. I have never been to a place where they take you around to meet the other coaches and staff in the department, and they were so welcoming.
“I feel like I’m going to learn a lot here. This is one of the power conferences, and like the Big 12, there will be battles night in and night out. But the challenges of the SEC will present the opportunity to grow, and that is something I am looking forward to.”
Coale said she saw Jackson grow into a leader who could be like a coach on the floor. She said that attitude was best exemplified when Jackson was a senior and emerged as a “master teacher.” She said that was the title upperclassmen earned when they had the opportunity to be coaches during the team’s camp. Coale said “master teachers’ would be responsible for teaching a skill to a large group of kids, which Coale said could be as many as 80. Coale said you could tell Jackson was a “natural at it” and that she enjoyed it. She has no doubt Jackson will be a hit in Starkville.
“She was able to put her stamp on it and have the kid in the palm of her hand for the week,” Coale said. “You could tell it maybe was her calling.
“She was able to conduct her gym and put her personality on those kids because they wanted to hear what she had to say, and that is sort of the essence of coaching.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.