It’s all academic for Notre Dame’s Jackson


South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — OK, what’s next?

Given the path of the Notre Dame men’s basketball season, Demetrius Jackson’s absence from Tuesday night’s 68-64 double-overtime win over Clemson was hardly a shocker.

It was just the next in a long line of unusual happenings that add context to the Irish frustration.

Twitter-sphere was abuzz in the minutes leading up to the game when the blue-chip freshman from nearby Marian High School was nowhere to be seen. Transfer? Next stop Illinois?

Even went so far as to whisper he and Austin Torres were a package deal again.

Shortly after the exhausting win, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was quick to put those fears to rest.

“It’s real simple,” said Brey. “Academic habits. He had such a great fall semester (academically). He’s just behind.”

So much for the intrigue that built up during the game.

It seemed logical that the recent struggles the 6-foot-1, 195-pound guard has had lately could be the precursor to a bailout.

He lost his starting job after the loss to Wake Forest. His minutes have dwindled to just 11 in losses to Syracuse (no points) and North Carolina (2).

Whether academic problems impacted his basketball play — or vice versa — Brey wasn’t about to speculate. He saw a problematic situation and didn’t let it fester.

“I put on my high school coach and teacher hat — which I’m never too far away from,” said Brey. “‘You get to come back to basketball when those habits get more consistent.’ We’ll give him some time to get caught up.”

Brey didn’t offer a timetable for Jackson’s return, but didn’t rule anything out.

“If he’s caught up at the end of the week, we’ll get him back to practice,” Brey said. “Then, we’ll go from there.”

So, is playing against Boston College Sunday a possibility? Again, the coach didn’t rule anything out.

Between Jackson’s absence and Austin Burgett’s slow recovery from recent heart surgery, the Irish had a very short bench. Eric Atkins (50 minutes), Pat Connaughton (49), Garrick Sherman (42, despite a broken finger), Steve Vasturia (41) and Zach Auguste (38) were like the “Iron Five.”

Good thing it was a game that looked more like a double shift at a steel mill than the track meet Notre Dame had against North Carolina last Saturday. Each possession was a labor-intensive halfcourt bruising that should have come with a lunch pail.

Big picture, the double-overtime victory was a step in the right direction. At this point of a very trying season, any win is a good win.

How the decision to banish Jackson from the arena plays out may not be immediately known. This wasn’t a situation that was done so that Jackson could get a philosophy paper finished. This was a significant discipline meant to establish a solid foundation for the rest of Jackson’s Notre Dame career.

“You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to help a guy grow up,” Brey said.

“Demetrius Jackson is very committed to being at Notre Dame,” Brey said. “It’s a matter of getting back into that good academic rhythm I’ve seen before. We’ll coach him back into that. Sometimes as a parent and a teacher and a coach, some tough love is needed.

“I’ve been doing it my whole life. I was trained as a teacher. I was a high school teacher and coach, always handling young people; being an educator and thinking it through. Sometimes you say, ‘That’s it. We’re taking basketball away until you’re better.’

“He’ll be better. He’ll learn from it. I’m fully confident of that.

“Young people sometimes ... ‘We can’t go on like this. Something’s gotta change.’ He can get back into a pretty good rhythm pretty quick because his fall semester, he did a heck of a job.”

A short-term punishment for a long-term solution.

Another step in the right direction.


Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson works his way past North Carolina State's Anthony Barber during their game last month. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)