Season-ending Injury Forces Redefined Leadership Role for Senior Jackson Clough


Tywen Kelly

Photo by Tywen Kelly

As the men’s basketball season approached in the fall of 2015, there were high expectations for senior guard Jackson Clough, who was predicted to play a vital role in the success of the team’s season. What was not predicted however, was that Clough’s contributions would not come from his stellar play on the court. After suffering an Achilles tendon injury early on, Clough was ruled out for the entirety of his senior season. In an interview with The Pioneer, Clough discussed the emotional strain of the injury and how he learned to cope with his new role on the team.

“It’s definitely one of the most violent injuries you can imagine,” Clough said. “It’s more often known as the forty-year-old Rec league injury. Coming to terms with how low percentage it was, and how this is my last year was certainly difficult, but the team couldn’t have been more supportive. More than anything,” Clough continued, “I think what has helped me get through it the most is that the coaching staff has been just as hard on me, in this new role of player coach, as they were on me as a player. I think that’s a really good lesson because it made me jump right back up on my feet. There wasn’t time to make excuses. There’s not too much time for being sad.”

In order to understand the impact that Clough has had on this program over the years, Head Men’s Basketball Coach Eric Bridgeland believes that a journey into his high school accomplishments is important. Clough was a starting quarterback, point guard, and pitcher, as well as captain for all three sports, for Seattle Preparatory School. Bridgeland shared how Clough’s leadership has grown throughout his Whitman career and how much he respects him as both a player and a person.

“He was an extraordinary player before the injury. His leadership went to a whole other level that we hadn’t seen [after the injury],” Bridgeland said. “His leadership has broadened with each player, to the point where he’s in coaches meetings. He’s visiting with these players, helping them with their games, how to view how they’re being coached, how to view what we need from them. It’s been remarkable, almost like he doesn’t have an injury. You would almost have to ask Jackson, ‘why aren’t you playing?’ because he would never draw attention to himself. He is about everybody else all the time.”

The admiration that Coach Bridgeland holds for Clough is matched by that of Clough’s teammates. Often times, injuries, especially serious ones, can cause a player to withdraw from participating in the team. Sophomore teammate JoJo Wiggins talked about the inspirational qualities of Clough’s reaction to being hurt.

“If you are on his team, you’re his brother pretty much. He is all about the team and dedicated to not just basketball or winning, but to each of us as individuals. Even though he’s been hurt, he’s still involved. A lot of people would handle that in different ways, but [I’ve admired] the way he handled it … and it’s inspirational,” Wiggins said. “I can’t remember a moment when he wasn’t positive. He’s vocal, he’s like a coach still. He’s still a big reason why we’re so successful right now. When Jackson says something, people listen.”

Clough’s injury has also provided the opportunity for a number of the young players to take important roles on the court. While some people might find watching a younger player fill their shoes very difficult, Clough has been proud of how his younger counterparts have performed.

“As a senior it takes a lot of trust watching younger guys who you have less experience with fill large roles for the team. That said, we pride ourselves in the strength of our brotherhood, and I trust every guy we have no matter the age to perform in crucial situations,” Clough said.

One of these new first-year players is Jack Stewart, a guard from Clough’s alma mater, Seattle Prep. The comparisons do not stop there, however–both players are well known for their ability to shoot the three ball.

“He has been at every practice and game and provides the senior leadership that one would expect from a veteran,” Stewart said. “He has been able to help all the freshman this year getting accustomed to the style of play in college. Jackson, being a senior, has been through it all.”

The fact that Clough has been held in such high esteem by his coaches and teammates speaks volumes for the impact he has made on campus. While he no longer has a chance to play for his second Team All-Conference award from last season, he still has the chance to bring the elusive first conference title to Walla Walla.

“Being the first Whitman team to win the conference would be the ultimate legacy for our senior class to leave. It would be a tribute to the guys before us who were dedicated to building the program into what it is now, and an example for future classes of what our standard is,” Clough said.