By Miki Turner
Special to Page 3

NEW YORK -- When producers asked Ken Carter for a list of actors he'd like to have play him in the movie "Coach Carter," the former high school hoops coach gave them only one name.

Sam Jackson plays Coach Carter in his first sports-themed movie.
Sam Jackson.

As it turned out, Jackson thought "Coach Carter" was the perfect vehicle for him, too. The film, which hits theatres Friday marks the first time that Jackson will star in a movie with a sports theme.

Jackson, an avid golfer and former college athlete, talked movies, sports and steroids with Page 3 during an exclusive interview.

How much time did you spend with the real Coach Carter before filming?

Sam Jackson: Not a lot. We went to a couple of high school basketball games together and talked. He was always around. He'd show up on the set every day ... for lunch.

He said that you really could coach hoops if you wanted to.

Is that what he thinks?

That's what he thinks. So is that the case?

I guess I could. I understand the fundamentals of the game. I can formulate a game plan and probably communicate it to some players and get them to execute it. Yeah.

Did you ever play the game?

I played recreationally. I was never good enough to be on my high school team. It was just a game that we would always get together and play. I always loved and enjoyed it. Basketball players are heroic for us. They can fly!

What did you play?

I was a track star in high school and a swimmer in college. They had values and goals, but it was about hard work and swimming is very different from other competitive sports. It's not a team sport. You just have to get in the water and make yourself faster and endure the pain of it. There's not a lot of rah-rah inspirational stuff.

Were there any Coach Carters in your life?

I guess so, but they were teachers. They were English teachers and band directors and math teachers. They held me to a higher standard and expected me to do things that my parents had told them that they expected me to do.

Sam Jackson
If Sam Jackson's playing golf, then it's cool if you play, too.
How is your golf game coming along?

Actually, excellent. I'm making a lot more money these days. It could be the people I'm playing against, but it could be my game. I like to think it's me.

Who are some of the better golfers in the entertainment industry and what's your handicap?

My handicap is five. Kenny G's a scratch golfer. Dennis Quaid is a scratch golfer. Michael Douglas is pretty good. I've played with Jim Brown and Johnny Gill and Sugar Ray Leonard. There are a lot of guys who play well. Will (Smith) plays well -- a ton of guys. It's the new game of choice.

What's been your best outing as a golfer?

I shot even par, one day. My whole goal is to shoot under par, one day. I don't have to do it but ... once and I'll be happy. I've been very close. I had my first hole-in-one last year at my club in Los Angeles -- par 3, 165 yards. It was the day before my birthday. It was great.

Anything from your athletic past that you're particularly proud of?

Proud of? No, I remember being in my first big swim meet in college and going into the wall on the 200. I made the turn too soon and I missed the wall with my feet. I was trying to push off and nothing was there. I had to kick to catch up and placed second. It was so embarrassing. I turned about four feet too soon. I had to turn all the way around and touch the wall and catch up.

You're in a film that features actors with no athletic skills and athletes with no acting experience. How was it working with those guys?

I kind of work by example. I showed up on time, I knew my lines and if they needed to run something with me, I would run it with them. Occasionally, I would say don't put the emphasis on that word, but put it on that word. Most of the basketball stuff was easy to do because they played ball with each other. And they were going to basketball camp. They had gone to camp about three weeks before we started shooting -- intense camp with drills. The other kids that they were playing against were all-state basketball players and kids that had played in junior colleges or semi-pro in Europe.

You once had issues with rappers headlining movies. How do you feel now?

I just finished a movie with Ice Cube and I've worked with Busta (Rhymes) and Todd (LL Cool J) and Queen Latifah. But my thing was when producers see an opportunity to take someone from that particular world -- the hip-hop world -- and put them in a movie, don't expect me to be a supporting player in that particular world in that particular person's movie because that validates that person's career when you take me. And all of a sudden, I'm in a movie and that person's name is above the title and my name is somewhere else. It's like wait a minute -- that's not going to work. In fact, I just got a call a couple of weeks ago about the 50 Cent movie. That kind of made me smile.

Sam Jackson, Ashanti
We haven't seen Sam Jackson's jumper, but we're assuming he shoots from the lip.
You gonna say no to 50?

Give me a break. I didn't even want to read that because that's not something I want to do right now. Maybe if he does five movies and they're good, maybe we can talk.

But working with Ashanti was cool, right?

Yeah, she wasn't locked up in her trailer getting high. She came out and was ready to work. She wasn't chronic!

What's your take on the whole steroids controversy?

It still all comes down to one thing. It's a really hallowed record and Babe Ruth had it. When Hank Aaron was on his way to it, there weren't steroids but people were calling him on the phone saying 'I'm gonna kill you if you break Babe Ruth's record.' OK, so theoretically Barry (Bonds) took some clear or whatever because the trainer gave it to him and he thought it was vitamins. OK, fine.

But if it was anybody else, Mark (McGwire) or anyone else approaching that record and they did that, then it would be, well, OK, maybe it was an honest mistake. Barry's not a well-liked guy. That plays into how people are going to look at the things he did and how history is going to see him because now they're going to say it's a tainted record. But, he hit those balls out of the park. The guys throwing the balls at him were taking that s---, too. C'mon, if you throw a ball 115 mph and a guy swings a bat 90 mph, the ball is going to leave the park.

Was it cool to do a movie that has the positive message "Coach Carter" has?

Definitely. It's not often that I get to do a film that has some social significance. The message here seems to be that education is the way. Sports is an opportunity for you to get an education, which is the one thing that can't be taken away from you because you can't always win in life.

One more movie question. What will you be doing in this episode of Star Wars?

Dying. Dying, like all the rest of the Jedi. It's an awesome death.

Miki Turner covers the fusion between sports and entertainment for Page 3 in L.A. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com.