That’s the word Taiyanna Jackson uses when asked to describe how she’s gone from playing at Trinity Valley Community College to becoming the No. 2 shot blocker in the country at Kansas. The Jayhawk has always known that her time is coming, but it’s also been a journey to get there.

Prior to coming to Kansas, Jackson played two years of JUCO ball. Her decision to go that route—despite being a four-star prospect in high school at East Chicago Central HS and originally committed to Ole Miss—came down to her wanting to explore her options and open herself up to something new. At Trinity Valley, Jackson was a NJCAA Region 14 Freshman of the Year and averaged 10.3 points per game throughout those two seasons. 

Stats aside, what Jackson gained from the experience prepared her not just athletically, but mentally, for the DI level. “JUCO is totally different: the class sizes, the games, how we travel, how we prepare for games and everything is just different. Trinity Valley was fun and I would say, like, it prepared me for the mental side DI,” she says, later adding: “Being patient and just knowing that [my] time is coming [and] everything [I’ve] worked for, everything [I’ve] thought of [and] dreamt of [is] eventually going to come to life just by being patient,” Jackson tells us over Zoom in early March before Selection Sunday. 

By the time you’re reading this, Jackson and her squad are gearing up for March Madness—the Jayhawks will take on Michigan in the first round on March 23. To say Jackson has settled well into the Jayhawks program would be an understatement: she’s thrived. As a junior she was the first-ever Jayhawk to be selected to the Big 12 All-Defensive Team and this season she’s become so much of a defensive ace, her 3.1 blocks per game has her currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in blocks, just behind Stanford’s Cameron Brink. 

Jackson has always had a knack shot blocking, but since arriving in Lawrence, she’s been challenged with playing against opponents that are bigger, and more experienced at the DI level, then she was coming in. But it’s how she’s met that challenge—and discovered that her footwork and approach to defense is her speciality—that’s allowed her to make a major impact. “[It was] my first time playing against, like, DI basketball players,” she says looking back at her first season at KU. “I always knew I was a great defender [and] I’m quick on my feet and that’s just something that I have [as] an advantage in my position. I just took pride in that. I let my offensive game come to me and let my defense take over.” 

Jackson is fearless when she matches up against opponents. Don’t sleep though: her offensive game is there, too—she’s currently second on the team in scoring with 12.6 ppg—but on the other end of the floor, Jackson really gets in her bag. “I really just love defense. It’s just like, the excitement and the joy you get when you’re blocking somebody’s shot. I don’t know, I just like it,” she says now with a smile and a slight chuckle. 

The passion in her voice is evident, and at one point, Jackson motions a chef’s kiss with her hand, as if comparing the feeling of blocking someone’s shot to a delicacy. When Kansas played Houston in February, Jackson posted nine blocked shots amidst a double-double performance, propelling her to the top of Jayhawks record book with the most career blocked shots in program history (270). 

 “Just stop sleeping on her,” teammate Zakiyah Franklin told The University Daily Kansan. “She’s been doing this. It’s not new to us…but people around the country should be put on notice more.” All season long, Jackson has been proving time and time again that this is just what she does: a few games later against UCF, Jackson ran all the way from the post to the top of the key and blocked sophomore Taylor Gibson right as the buzzer went off in the second quarter. She had yet another monster double-double performance of 29 points, 10 rebounds and even four blocks to help seal the 65-53 win. 

The Jayhawks will need that same energy from her ahead of the NCAA tournament, where they’ll look to make a run past the second-round for the first time since 2022. Regardless of what happens, this is only the beginning for Jackson, who has her sights set on the WNBA in the future. We can only imagine how her game will grow at the next level. 

“I would like to go play at the next level. That’s the goal.”

Photos via Getty Images. Portrait via KU Athletics.

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