Instantly, Jarrett Jack understood everything he had ever heard.
The hype was warranted. The buzz was confirmed.
The Georgia Tech freshman walked into Madison Square Garden for the first time — 15 years ago this week, to face Marist — and walked out with a memory that still makes the 34-year-old smile like a kid.
Now, at his ninth NBA stop, he remains amazed it is home.
“You know how everyone’s always like, ‘The Garden this, the Garden that,’ but as soon as I walked on the court I was like, that feeling, I get it now,” Jack said. “The atmosphere is something that makes you be a little more locked in. Maybe it’s the lights, with that [theatrical]-type setting that it has. Maybe it’s [the people] sitting courtside. Maybe it’s that rowdy, raucous crowd that takes you back to the high school feel, sometimes.
“I’m getting used to it, but it doesn’t get old. Every time I run out there and I hear the “Dun dun dun,” the classic stuff that they play over the PA system … me and my brother are sitting around all the time, being like I can’t believe we get to be a part of this. You’ve seen Madison Square Garden in movies, sports, concerts, and for it [to] be somewhere that you work is amazing.”
Jack’s first season with the Knicks — his 13th in the league — has quietly helped make the building reach its potential again. Originally a candidate to be cut from the overcrowded roster at this point in the season, the veteran point guard has been far more vital than the Knicks ever anticipated when signing him in September.
Entering Sunday’s game against the Magic at the Garden, Jack ranks 16th in the league in assists (5.9), 11th in assist to turnover ratio (3.53), and second in the NBA in assist ratio (43.0), which measures the percentage of a player’s individual possessions which end in an assist.
The Knicks, meanwhile, are fifth in the league in assists per game (23.4), after ranking 19th, and 26th, the previous two seasons.
“When I got here I kind of gauged the lineup of the guys I was playing with … [and] it calls for somebody within that five, to kind of be like, ‘Hey man, I can’t try and barge my way into the offense.’
“I’ve got to sacrifice for the betterment of everybody and it’s been productive for us,” Jack said following practice Saturday. “I’m all good with just setting the table, understanding my role and knowing what’s been great and positive for the team.
“I just try to be an extension of whatever coach wants to have happen out there, and I try to relay it as best as I can to the guys and just keep the consistency of the offense and the defense, as well as the team’s morale. … I think it’s my job to kind of set the template and keep it as even-keeled as I can.”
If not for Jack being limited to 34 games over the past two seasons with injuries, coach Jeff Hornacek believes the guard might not have been available.
“Jarrett had a lot of good years and injuries slowed him down,” Hornacek said. “He’s got a great basketball mind and gets things set up, and calls them out early enough so that guys know early in the shot clock what we’re doing. He’s stepped into that leadership and point guard spot and done a great job.”
Particularly in leading a roster with so many new pieces, including Enes Kanter, Tim Hardaway Jr., Doug McDermott, Frank Ntilikina and Michael Beasley.
“He helps everyone a lot,” Kanter said. “He helps the point guards a lot. He helps the bigs a lot. … He’s unbelievable helping me, every time I’m on the court and I forget about the set. He knows everything.”