Tory Jackson got Brey’s message, too

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

When it reached a point where basketball mattered more than being a student-athlete at a place where you better be both, basketball was taken away from former Notre Dame guard Tory Jackson.

Jackson thought he had it all figured out during summer school before his freshman year in 2006. He would work out with teammates a couple hours each day, run pickup games seemingly all night, find something to eat, retreat to his dorm and chill.

Books? They could wait.

No, they couldn’t.

“At Notre Dame, it’s not like every other school,” Jackson told the Tribune early Wednesday morning. “You have to enjoy studying. You have to learn not to be just about yourself and about basketball.”

Ultimately, Irish coach Mike Brey decided to separate Jackson from his teammates and from the program. No workouts. No pickup. No team activities until Jackson straightened out his school work. No ball. Just books. For how long was up to Jackson. If it took a month, so be it.

Jackson needed less than two weeks to get back on track.

“Coach Brey told me that (the separation) was nothing bad, but he knew that I had to get my head together,” Jackson said. “He knew that if I cared about my teammates and cared about basketball, I would work my hardest.

“If I didn’t handle my business, I wouldn’t be a part of the team. I buckled down.”

Jackson remembers buzzing through a week’s worth of school work in about two days. He wrote several three- to four-page papers for his major in sociology. He got back up to speed and even worked ahead in his math class. It forced Jackson to no longer take his studies for granted and not be so lazy about doing work. It wasn’t going to go away, but if he didn’t address it and do it, he would.

“When you get the news that you’re off the team, you find out how hard you can work. For real,” said Jackson, now in his first season as an assistant coach at Division II Northwood (Mich.) University. “I was headed off in the wrong way. I put off a lot of stuff and it caught up to me.

“I just sat down and did it. You really have to buckle down. That’s what Coach Brey always preaches.”

And it’s what Brey continues to preach, no matter the possible cost, no matter the player. Jackson wasn’t the first player separated from the Irish to straighten out his studies and he wouldn’t be the last. Former Irish small forward Carleton Scott was given time away to focus on academics during the 2007-08 season when he sat out to preserve a year of eligibility.

The start of the 2013 spring semester signaled the first time that sophomore power forward Eric Katenda was eligible to dress in uniform and be available for games after injuries and the NCAA sidetracked his freshman year. Katenda spent the back half of the 2012-13 season in street clothes during games to focus on academics.

The latest to learn the academics lesson at Notre Dame is freshman guard Demetrius Jackson. The former Marian High School standout and McDonald’s All-American did not attend Tuesday’s double-overtime home victory over Clemson after Brey demanded this week that he get his academic house in order.

“Sometimes you say, ‘That’s it. We’re taking basketball way until you’re better,’” Brey said. “He’ll be better. He’ll learn from it. I’m confident.

“Sometimes as a parent and a teacher and a coach, some tough love is needed.”

Jackson’s separation is the latest in a season of strangeness. He is the third Irish player to slip under academic scrutiny since Dec. 22. Guard Jerian Grant was forced to withdraw from school for the spring semester because of an academic misstep. Days later, sopho-more Cameron Biedscheid, who had been sitting out the season to preserve a year of eligibility and presumably work on being better academically, announced that he would transfer. Biedscheid eventually enrolled as a walk-on at Missouri.

Add those academic issues to the health issues of Zach Auguste (wrist), Austin Burgett (heart) and Tom Knight (knee/flu/pneumonia) to a stretch of eight of 10 league losses and it’s been one long, strange trip.

On the outside, perhaps. Not inside the Irish basketball circle, where addressing any adversity is a non-issue.

“It’s just a matter of taking it in stride, keeping everyone in the locker room, their heads up and looking at the positive and knowing that no matter how much adversity comes, you’ve got to keep going,” said junior captain Pat Connaughton. “You’ve got games to play. You’ve got a season to finish. You’ve got teammates to have each other’s backs.”

That eventually will include Demetrius Jackson. Struggling to find his role and rhythm while averaging 6.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 23.3 minutes over 24 games this season, he could return as soon as this weekend as Notre Dame (13-12; 4-8 Atlantic Coast Confer-ence) prepares for Sunday’s game at Boston College.

“I know Demetrius is a good kid,” said Tory Jackson. “But there’s a lot of pressure on him being the local guy. It’s tough.”

Tory Jackson understands the range of emotions the current Irish guard has had to sort through after being told to go away. Homesick even before he was tossed from the team, his first instinct was to run back to his comfort zone and home to Saginaw, Mich.

Eventually, he thought more about the big picture instead of any short-sighted, quick decisions.

“I couldn’t let my family down and I couldn’t let Coach down,” Tory Jackson said. “I thought back to when Coach was recruiting me. He promised my mom that if I earned a scholarship, I would earn my degree.”

Jackson graduated in 2010 with a degree in sociology and computer applications. Today, he looks at the decision made by Brey and sees that it was the right one for so many reasons.

“Doing what he did, that really helped our relationship,” Jackson said. “We got even closer.”

Sherman’s status

This season may take yet another interesting turn — and not for the better — Thursday when Brey receives more medical information on senior captain Garrick Sherman.

Wednesday was the team’s mandatory NCAA off-day. Practice resumes Thursday in preparation for Sunday’s game against Boston College.

Sherman left Tuesday’s game barely three minutes in with what appeared to be a jammed right ring finger. Sherman then had it taped to his pinkie by trainer Skip Meyer, but was not comfortable with how it felt. A trip to the trainer’s room for further treatment was re-quired before Sherman returned and played 42 minutes.

Sherman scored only six points, his fewest since getting only four in the early-season loss against Indiana State. He also shot 3-of-11 from the field, and the finger may have been a factor.

Brey believes it might be broken.

“I don’t know what’s going on there,” he said. “He’s pretty banged up.”

Sherman leads all active Irish in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (7.9). He is one of only three Irish to appear in all 25 games.

Tom Noie: 574-235-6153; Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame's Tory Jackson embraces coach Mike Brey during senior day ceremonies in March 2010. (SBT File Photo)