Interesting offseason - stay or go - awaits ND guard Demetrius Jackson

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

The point guard finally let his guard down.

If only for a moment.

With 34 seconds remaining in an East Region championship game that his team wasn’t going to win Sunday against North Carolina, Notre Dame junior captain Demetrius Jackson trudged slowly toward the sideline.

He stopped to hug his head coach. He slapped hands with some of the coaches and his teammates, guys he considers his brothers. When he reached the end of the line, he turned back to watch the final seconds unfold on the floor of Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Mishawaka's Jackson looked up with deep pools of tears welling in his eyes.

Following an 88-71 loss in the Elite Eight, the Marian product was asked the inevitable question. It’s one that’s quietly hovered over the program for months.

What’s next for his basketball future?

Jackson answered as coolly as he conducted the Irish offense that Easter evening.

“That’s something I’ll discuss later,” he said.

Later for coach Mike Brey soon arrived on the opposite side of a sad Irish locker room. As Jackson sat quietly studying his cell phone, Brey outlined the coming months for his star guard.

Jackson will declare for the NBA draft but not hire an agent. Doing so allows him to retain his college eligibility yet be invited to the mid-May draft combine in Chicago. There he will go through the usual individual testing for prospects. He’ll meet with NBA decision-makers who will advise him of his projected draft status. Jackson also has the option to participate in a workout for one NBA team.

Jackson then will have 10 days to decide whether to return for his senior season or become the first Irish since Troy Murphy in 2001 to enter the draft a year early.

One NBA scout for an Eastern Conference team reached Monday morning by the Tribune has Jackson on the fringe of the first round. One who works for a Western Conference squad also said Monday morning that he believes Jackson — as of now — is a late-first, early-second round selection.

In its most recent mock draft, DraftExpress.com has Jackson going to Toronto with the 11th overall pick. NBADraft.net has him as the third pick in the second round to Phoenix.

Former teammate Jerian Grant, himself a first-round pick last summer (19th overall), told the Tribune in November that he would be surprised if Jackson returned for his senior season.

“He has an opportunity to go back to school, but the special things that he’s going to be able to do this year, he can test the waters and be a first-round pick,” Grant said. “I think he’s 100 percent in.”

If Sunday’s game was Jackson’s last, he closed it out on the highest of notes. Jackson scored 26 points, one shy of tying his career high, with four assists and two rebounds in 39 minutes.

“I’ll tell you one thing, he helped his stock,” Brey said. “He looked like an NBA guard.”

Brey plans to say nothing to sway Jackson to return. In many ways, it’s no longer about what the head coach thinks. It’s about what the people at the next level are telling him. It’s about what his heart is telling him.

All Brey can do is offer support.

“You can’t recruit him,” Brey said. “If business says he should go, I’ll lead the parade out of town. He has given us three fabulous years.”

On second thought

Irish power forward Zach Auguste picked up two quick fouls Sunday and spent the final 14:38 of the first half on the bench. Brey rarely adheres to the two-foul-and-down rule for players, but the potential of having to battle North Carolina and its relentless front line led to the decision not to flirt with picking up a third.

Afterward, Brey second-guessed the decision.

“Maybe I should have gotten him back in with two fouls just so he could get his rhythm a little bit,” Brey said. “It’s tough when you sit a whole half with foul trouble, then you’ve got to find your rhythm. That’s tricky.”

Auguste, who had been so steady for so many consecutive games — double doubles for points and rebounds in eight of his previous nine games — never did get on track. He closed out his collegiate career with five points and three rebounds in a season-low 21 minutes.

Getting tagged for his second foul took him completely out of it, both physically and psychologically.

“It was devastating,” Auguste said. “I was close to losing it mentally.”

Burn turn

Looking to keep the Tar Heels from their vaunted transition game, Brey tapped an old friend — the “burn” offense.

Brey first used the methodical, four-guard look late in the 2009-10 season as a way to offset the injury loss of power forward Luke Harangody. He put together some film clips of that year to show the current Irish before the North Carolina game.

This year’s burn featured a twist of swingman V.J. Beachem, guarded by a Tar Heel big, offering an Irish guard a ball screen at the top of the key before sliding out for wing 3 looks.

Beachem scored 18 points.

Notre Dame limited the Heels to three fast break points in a first half where its average time of possession was 26 seconds. Each time the Irish had a chance to bust loose, Brey looked to his guards and held his hands out as if to say … take … your ... time.

“We did a great job controlling pace,” said sophomore guard Matt Farrell.

Any hint of staying with the burn went out the window when the Irish tumbled into an 11-point hole. From then on, the Irish had to score fast to give themselves a chance.

Notre Dame scored two fewer points — 38-36 — in the second half. It finished with an average time of possession of 23 seconds. Notre Dame had 57 possessions; North Carolina had 59.