To get a feel for the style of play preferred by Terrance Jacobs, simply ask the Towson State guard which player he admired most while growing up.
"I don't like to pattern my game after any one player, but I liked Perry McDonald," said Jacobs of the scrappy, unheralded forward who played for Georgetown in 1984-88. "I always thought he was tough, being that he was only [6 feet 4] and seemingly controlled the inside."
It was McDonald's hard work and determination that made him a successful player in the Big East, and it's that same work ethic that's made Jacobs one of the best players in the East Coast Conference. Entering the conference tournament tomorrow, Jacobs leads the league in scoring (23.5, 17th in the nation) and, despite being 6-3, is second in rebounding (8.1). His is a blue-collar ethic that has opposing players and coaches shaking their heads in frustration -- and admiration.
"He's my favorite player in the league, besides my own," said Rider coach Kevin Bannon. "Here's a guy who's 6-3 and guarding the best player on the other team, and still he gets his 23 points and eight rebounds. He's really a unique player, and you have to love all the things that he does to help his team win."
It's a trait that Jacobs developed at Southern High School, where he starred in basketball and football. As a senior point guard, Jacobs had a Magic Johnson-like season -- averaging 22.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.9 assists. He also played tough defense and, in one game, held Thomas Jordan, a 6-9 All-American center at Lake Clifton, to one field goal.
Jacobs was also an All-Metro quarterback who once returned to the field two weeks after an emergency appendectomy to lead his team to a victory.
Despite football feelers from Miami, Southern Cal, UCLA and Pittsburgh, Jacobs opted to go to Old Dominion on a basketball scholarship.
"I knew the assistant coaches there, and, when I visited, the scenery in Norfolk [Va.] was nice and the beach was close," Jacobs said. "And there was a good freshman class coming in. I thought it would be a good situation."
But it wasn't. After starting the first four games and averaging close to 30 minutes, Jacobs found himself on the bench. As his playing time decreased, so did his desire to remain at Old Dominion.
"At first, I thought it was something I was doing, but I was still going to practice and playing hard to get another chance," Jacobs said. "It just wasn't helping. I got frustrated, because I knew I could be out there doing something to help the team. I just wasn't getting the opportunity."
So, at the end of summer school, Jacobs was gone. He wanted to go to Towson, but didn't like the idea of sitting out a year. Instead, he went to Allegany Community College, where he helped the nationally ranked Spartans to a 30-6 record. Florida State and St. Bonaventure sought his services, but Jacobs had made up his mind. It was time to go home.
"I had a 2-year-old son [Terrance Jr.] at home and the aunt who raised me," Jacobs said. "I wanted to be closer to them. I was away from my son for two years, and just wanted to be near him. Plus, Towson was doing pretty well, and I felt it would be a good place to play."
It also turned out to be a rewarding situation, as Jacobs, averaging 15.9 points, helped the Tigers win the ECC and make their second straight NCAA tournament appearance. For Jacobs, playing against Ohio State in the first round was a dream come true.
"In my junior year in high school, I went to a camp and one of the counselors was a player, and he had on his NCAA watch," Jacobs said. "I was looking and really admiring it, and he told me he got it from the tournament. When we finally made it last year I was really happy, because I was finally going to get my watch."
Jacobs was hoping to add to his watch collection this season, but the loss of point guard Devin Boyd and a slow start doomed Towson's outside chance of an NCAA berth. The Tigers enter the ECC tournament 14-13, but it's no reflection on the way Jacobs has played this season.
"He's the best 6-3 offensive rebounder that I've seen," Towson coach Terry Truax said. "What really makes him effective is that he just loves the competition. He loves the sting of battle and the physical nature of the game. The more physical the opponent, the more he enjoys it."
The two fresh nicks around his left eye and the one near his right prove just that. "That's from getting in there and mixing it up," said Jacobs, whose 142 offensive boards lead the league. After he gets his degree in mass communications, he's hoping to get an opportunity to mix it up at a higher level.
"I've always dreamed of playing in the NBA, and if I could do enough things on the court to get me a chance, that's all that I ask for," Jacobs said. "When I graduate, I would like to continue to play, whether it be here or overseas. If it doesn't work, I'll just have to go out and make it in the real world."
Regardless of what happens, Jacobs said he is glad he had the opportunity to return home and help a local program get some recognition -- proof that you don't have to play in the Big East or Atlantic Coast Conference for a sense of fulfillment.
"Coming out of high school, you feel that if you play for a Duke or a North Carolina that you're bound to get a spot and bound to get an NBA tryout," Jacobs said. "But that's a long shot. And if you can really play ball, you can make it to the NBA no matter where you go -- whether it's Duke or Towson.
"I'm just glad I came home, because these last two years have been the kind of ball I wanted to play because I played a lot. I want people to remember me as a person that played very hard for Towson. A person that did whatever he could to help gain recognition for this school."