Basketball workouts during offseasons at Notre Dame usually were one-sided situations.
Head coach Mike Brey would dictate the drills, and a current or former player would do them. Make so many shots from that spot. Then slide over there. Then there. Then free throws. Maybe some sprints into layups. Repeat as needed.
Few ideas were exchanged. If they were, they were offered up by Brey. He went through the session as the teacher, the player as the pupil. That’s how it always went.
Until last summer.
With former Irish guard Demetrius Jackson back in town — he’s a home owner now after having a purchased a townhouse near campus — Brey asked the former Marian High School standout and McDonald’s All-American if he might swing by Rolfs Hall so the coach could work him out like the old days.
Jackson did, but flipped the workout script on Brey. After spending time in the NBA with three organizations — he would be with a fourth, the Los Angeles Lakers, for a brief stay last fall — Jackson had a reservoir of drills he could do for Brey.
The coach, in a way, became the pupil.
“I didn’t take him through the workout,” Brey said. “I just watched him work. Like, here’s what I do next with a ball screen, with footwork, with a step-back jumper.
“I fed him and listened for an hour.”
In the process, Brey realized that Jackson’s done way more than just bounce around the NBA trying to earn a roster spot. He’s watched and learned and listened while a member of the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers and the Houston Rockets and most recently, the Lakers. He’s paid attention to what the coaches in the organizations have said. He’s watched how the players in those organizations have played.
He’s picked up nuances about being a pro — the footwork stuff, the drill stuff, the day-to-day stuff — that amazed Brey. It all culminated in that hour-long workout.
“I was like, tell me more, tell me more,” Brey said. “With his training, he’s memorized every drill. You watch what he does and you’re like, ‘We should add that. I like that.’ I’ve picked his brain.”
Brey also has watched Jackson tutor Irish junior guards Dane Goodwin and Prentiss Hubb. Seeing Jackson talk and teach, Brey thought to himself that he’d be a really good coach someday.
That never was on Brey’s radar. Or Jackson’s. Ever.
“He’s really gifted as a teacher and a connector with young people about the game,” Brey said. “When he does decide to give up playing, he has an amazingly bright future as a teacher of the game.”
The 25-year-old Jackson hopes to leave soon for Lithuania, where he plans to continue his playing career. He might spend the rest of that career in Europe. He might get another chance at the NBA. He’s still got goals as a player. And after he’s a player.
“I’m going to try and exhaust this (pro career),” Jackson said last week, “before I become the head coach at Notre Dame.”
An AAU tale
Former Irish swingman Pat Connaughton begins the chase for a championship ring Tuesday when the Milwaukee Bucks open the NBA playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference against No. 8 Orlando in the Walt Disney World bubble.
It’s a place Connaughton knows well. It was at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in 2010 where Connaughton caught the recruiting eye of Brey, who watched all of one game before extending a scholarship.
That game featured Connaughton making a chase-down block of a sure layup that caught Brey’s eye. But there was another contest between Connaughton’s Middlesex (Mass.) Magic squad and Chicago Old Gold that got the AAU circuit buzzing.
Middlesex trailed by three with three seconds remaining. Chicago Old Gold had a chance to seal it with a free throw, but missed. Connaughton grabbed the rebound, took two dribbles and launched a desperation 3-pointer off the wrong foot at the buzzer.
“He drilled it,” Middlesex coach Michael Crotty said. “Our guys are going nuts; Pat just goes to the bench.”
Connaughton jumped center and won the tap to start overtime. The Magic ran a backdoor play for Connaughton, who delivered a dunk and a free throw to put Middlesex up three. Next time down after a defensive stop, Connaughton drilled a 3 to give him nine straight points in 55 seconds.
Middlesex won in overtime as Connaughton finished with 38 points and 24 rebounds.
“The phone,” Crotty said, “never stopped ringing after that.”
Jackson was going through his pre-practice routine last fall during training camp with the Lakers, when he heard a voice call him. Not just any voice. THAT voice.
“Yo, D, today in practice, pick me up fullcourt. Just pick me up fullcourt.”
When LeBron James speaks, you listen. So Jackson did as the King requested. In practice that day, he picked him up fullcourt. Every time the 6-foot-9, 250-pound James touched the ball, be it on a rebound or inbound pass, there the 6-1, 205-pound Jackson was. Shadowing him. Guarding him. Competing against him. Giving James the same look he expected to see from Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverly.
That day, Jackson was Beverly while trying to make his teammate better.
“That’s what I’ve worked to do,” Jackson said.
Jackson was the final cut of the Lakers in camp before spending an abbreviated stint with the team’s G League squad. Prior to getting released, Jackson said Lakers coach Frank Vogel looked him in the eye and told him that he trusted him. General manager Rob Pelinka looked him the eye and told him he wished he had one more available roster spot. If he did, Jackson would have it. Senior basketball advisor Kurt Rambis, who won four championship rings during the Lakers’ Showtime days of the 1980s, told Jackson that he “was one of the best human beings he’d ever met.”
“For someone to say that to me, from where I started, that alone is a small win,” Jackson said.
One week of the fall semester down, two truncated practices in the book for the 2020-21 Irish.
Notre Dame held two workouts, each with only five players, and two weight-training sessions last week. The Irish may do the same this week while continuing to practice social distancing guidelines and other coronavirus protocols. Brey hopes to hold a more traditional practice, and maybe even go five-on-five, by Labor Day weekend.
That remains to be seen. So is the start of the regular season. Notre Dame is scheduled to open at home against Army on Veterans Day. Brey is skeptical that the game — or even the season’s first two months — will be played.
On Wednesday, during their weekly Atlantic Coast Conference head coaches Zoom meeting, Brey proposed the first of what likely will be many “bubble” plans for the league. He floated the idea of each of the league’s 15 schools meeting at a central site — say, Greensboro, N.C. — for a 10-game league schedule that would run from Thanksgiving to just before Christmas. Basically, they’d play every other day.
“Give TV some inventory,” Brey said. “Who knows when we come back after that to play or how we play or if we play.”
Brey indicated that an all-inclusive bubble from January to March or February to May or however long it might shake out likely would be a hard sell for Notre Dame if spring semester is in session. If classes go on-line only? Maybe.
Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic on campus has seen Notre Dame tweak previous housing guidelines for student-athletes.
Historically, student-athletes can live off campus only as seniors. In a pandemic, the school is allowing them to live where they feel most comfortable. If it’s in the dorms, they can live in the dorms. If it’s off campus, they can live off campus.
Freshmen Tony Sanders, Elijah Taylor and Matt Zona are in traditional dorms.
“Living in the dorms,” Brey said, “is sometimes a bit of a deal breaker in recruiting.”
The three junior starters — Dane Goodwin, Nate Laszewski and Prentiss Hubb — as well as Robby Carmody and Santa Clara transfer Trey Wertz are all off campus.
“That junior class hit the jackpot,” Brey said. “You worry a little about managing time and not having 17 people over on a Friday night.”
Fellow junior Cormac Ryan, chose to live on campus this year. Graduate students Nik Djogo and Juwan Durham are again off campus.