Notre Dame basketball: Jackson, Torres adapt to ND

South Bend Tribune

They still were considered part-timers and relative out-siders to the Notre Dame men's basketball program as recently as late April.

But when summer vaca-tion ended before ever really starting, former area high school basketball standouts Demetrius Jackson and Aus-tin Torres jumped right into the college life of dining halls, dorms and studies.

Less than 24 hours after each participated in basket-ball events this month, they were preparing to begin classes at Notre Dame. In-stead of soaking up a few more care-free weeks as re-cent high graduates, they were studying calculus and listening to theology lectures and learning how to live on their own.

Other than the occasional weekend trip home or break before the start of the fall se-mester, both will be on cam-pus nearly non-stop from now until May 2014.

“It's a difficult transition,” said Jackson, a Mishawaka native who spent much of spring on a whirlwind all-star game tour in addition to graduation from Marian High School. “This is a higher level, but it's good. It's challenging every day, but it's good for you.

“What I've done so far hasn't been that difficult, which must mean I'm getting better at it.”

After appearances in Chi-cago at the McDonald's All-Star game and in Portland, Ore., at the Nike Hoops Summit, Jackson spent the second week of June partici-pating in the Indiana-Kentucky basketball all-star series. He played the second of two games in Indianapolis on June 15, arrived home in the wee hours of June 16 and was moving into his dorm hours later that day.

“I was scrambling,” he said. “I was unorganized having to come right to No-tre Dame.”

Torres, who earlier this month graduated from Penn High School in Purcell Pavil-ion, was in a similar circum-stance. While Jackson was in Indianapolis, Torres was in New Castle for an Indiana high school hoops showcase, where he also won the slam dunk contest. A day later, he was a college kid.

Torres, a Granger resi-dent, insists the transition was relatively seamless.

“It's not scary; I like the freedom,” he said. “College is different. You're in your own little world, your own little bubble. It just felt like I was going to a camp for an overnight thing, and then I'm here for a week and it's turned into reality.”

Reality is that the former AAU teammates will share a unique basketball bond throughout their collegiate careers. They are the first two area high school players to sign with Irish coach Mike Brey. Jackson committed to Notre Dame over Illinois in September. Torres followed days later after originally committing to Central Michigan.

The first McDonald's All-American to sign with Notre Dame since 2005, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Jackson aver-aged 25.9 points, 5.7 re-bounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 steals per game his senior season, when he also became the all-time leading scorer in St. Joseph County history.

The 6-7, 200-pound Tor-res averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and shot 60 percent from the field as a senior.

Both made myriad cam-pus visits before and after they signed their official let-ters of intent in November to play pickup with their future teammates. But nothing they experienced during those runs matched what it was like to have an actual prac-tice with the entire squad earlier this month.

If they didn't know the stakes are higher at the col-legiate level, that session was a clear indication that this no longer the Northern Indiana Conference.

“It's intense,” said Jack-son, who likely steps into a major backcourt role during the 2013-14 season. “It's definitely more difficult — the size, the strength, the speed of the players. It's physical, but it's always been that way.

“I love competing.”

Jackson's competitive side surfaced on the second day of Brey's basketball camp during the evening pickup session. Jackson was matched against senior guard Jerian Grant, who scored over him in a variety of ways.

It didn't come easily.

“He's a great defender,” Grant said. “And he's really quick.”

Undeterred by Grant go-ing off, Jackson responded with several strong plays and passes of his own, which rocketed up the intensity level. Summer suddenly felt like mid-winter.

“I never try to back down from anybody,” Jackson said. “I always try to com-pete. When the intensity picks up, I love it.

“I try to stay composed, play hard and get better.”

Torres likely will use his entire freshman season to get better. With so many experi-enced frontline guys ahead of him, there's no reason for Torres to push for playing time. Brey has talked with Torres about developing into an energy guy — like a Chris Andersen or a Dennis Rod-man — who can make a difference by rebounding and defending. That likely takes Torres down a five-year route.

“I love to play basketball, so if I have to work to get to where I want to be, so be it,” he said. “I'm just worried about myself and my team-mates and where we want to go.”

With two weeks of sum-mer school down, both have already experienced their welcome-to-college moment.

For Jackson, it was having to pass the mandatory swim test. All freshman athletes have to do the front stroke for 25 yards, then do the backstroke back. They have to do it twice for a total dis-tance of 100 yards.

“I'm not the best swimmer in the world,” Jackson said, “so it was a little difficult.”

For Torres, it was walking into the dining hall and having his pick of foods — homemade omelets and scrambled eggs for breakfast, wings, build-your-own piz-zas, fish and tenderloin for lunch and dinner.

“It's actually really good for me,” he said.

Cooley to Memphis

Former Notre Dame power forward Jack Cooley has joined the Memphis Grizzlies as a free agent for next month's NBA summer league in Las Vegas.

Cooley, the only player in the Big East to average double figures for points (13.1) and rebound (10.1) last season, was not selected in Thursday's two-round, 60-selection NBA draft. The former first team All-Big East selection shot 57.9 per-cent from the field, 50 per-cent from 3 and 70.3 percent from the free throw line his senior season. He scored 1,024 career points, 51st in school history.

Memphis opens the 22-team Vegas summer league July 13 against the Chicago Bulls. The Grizzlies finished 56-26 and second place, two games behind the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs in the South-west Division.

•Former Irish swingman Tim Abromaitis told the South Bend Tribune on Fri-day afternoon that he will go to summer league with the Boston Celtics. Abromaitis, whose fifth year at Notre Dame was limited to two games because of a knee in-jury, played professionally last season in France.

The Celtics open summer league play in Orlando on July 7 against the Magic.

•Former Irish guard Ben Hansbrough will play a sec-ond straight summer league with the Indiana Pacers. Hansbrough spent his rookie season with the team as a re-serve guard.

•Former Irish assistant coach Gene Cross will help coach the New York Knicks’ summer league team. Cross spent last season as the head coach of the Erie (Pa.) Bay-hawks of the NBA Devel-opment League. The Bay-hawks are a Knicks affiliate.