Irish Rewind: Demetrius Jackson commits to Notre Dame

IRISH STEW

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Something about the way he approached basketball forever changed for Marian senior guard Demetrius Jackson midway through high school.

Always able to be really good at all phases on the floor, when he often made it look like it all came so easily, Jackson realized during his sophomore season that with even more work and determination and focus, basketball might one day take him somewhere special, take him to a place he never dreamed of going.

On Thursday, basketball helped Jackson offer a verbal commitment to attend Notre Dame, where he will enroll next summer shortly after graduation from Marian.

“I never thought I’d be in this position,” the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Jackson said during a 10-minute press conference at the ICE Athletic Center on a day he won’t soon forget for myriad reasons. “It’s a blessing to even be recruited. I’m just happy I’m here.”

Happy? Yes. Satisfied? Hardly. Considered by most recruiting services a four- or five-star prospect and ranked among the nation’s Top 30 prep seniors, Jackson knows all those prep accolades and experiences will take him nowhere once he moves a few miles from his Mishawaka home onto the Notre Dame campus.

It will again be time to elevate everything, just as he did as a prep sophomore when MBA Select AAU coach Rod Creech noticed a change in his young guard’s disposition.

“He went from a guy liking the game,” Creech said, “to a complete person that’s ready to tackle the world.”

What type of player are the Irish getting in someone who averaged 22.3 points a game as a junior and is a strong candidate for Indiana Mr. Basketball as a senior?

Someone who’s not afraid to work morning, noon or night, a trait that already runs deep through an Irish basketball program seemingly poised to take the next step and join the nation’s elite.

Jackson dreams of being a part of that process. A big part.

“I’m going to work my butt off every day and do what I have to do to be the best every time I step on the floor and bring championships to the school,” he said. “I can’t wait to play at Notre Dame.”

Recruited by the Notre Dame staff since his freshman year at Marian — the Irish were among the first to extend a scholarship offer — Jackson already knows well of the campus and the climate of where he’ll call home for four years.

He’s spent so much time around the program and the players and the support staff after some two dozen unofficial visits to play pickup games or just hang out that he already seemed like one of the family long before his official campus visit last weekend.

With seemingly nothing left to see or hear or learn of the place, Jackson still left campus Sunday with an even greater understanding that if he chose Notre Dame over Illinois, which didn't arrive on his recruiting radar until spring and was making a fast push at the finish, he would do so for reasons outside of his play-making and passing abilities.

"I felt like (last) weekend that they really do care about and they want what's best for me," Jackson said. "I know there's more to life than just basketball.

"Notre Dame is going to prepare me for life after college."

Jackson spoke in definitives Thursday about Notre Dame, but he wasn't quite certain it was for him much of the week. Despite acknowledging that he would have a decision one way or another by Thursday, Jackson's mind bounced back and forth for days - Notre Dame or Illinois? South Bend or Champaign? Big East/Atlantic Coast Conference or Big Ten?

Not until he woke Thursday was Jackson at peace with his decision - he was going to Notre Dame.

"I had to sleep on it; it was kind of up and down for me," he said. "I had such a great relationship with both coaching staffs that I knew it would be a difficult decision.

"I felt like Notre Dame was the best for me."

Scrap the script

Jackson laid out his commitment plans for the week not long after returning home Sunday from Notre Dame. He would participate in an open gym at Marian on Tuesday, which also was attended by the Irish and Illini coaching staffs. He would reserve Wednesday to ponder through the pros and cons for each school, then take that one final night to sleep on the decision. Following school Thursday, he would sit in front of a television camera with a long-sleeve dress shirt, blue tie and sweater vest and reveal his decision on ESPNU's "Recruiting Nation."

Everything seemed to be falling into place until around 1:30 Thursday afternoon. That's when it all fell apart.

ESPN accidentally released a video of Dave Telep, its senior college basketball recruiting analyst, dissecting what it meant for Jackson to commit to Notre Dame.

The video was taken down off the ESPN web site a short time later.

Still in school at the time, Jackson had no idea that the video had caused an internet stir. As it did, any intrigue of Jackson's announcement vaporized into cyberspace.

"It is what it is," Jackson said when reached around 3.

Telep, who had been home in North Carolina and sick in bed all day, awoke to a crush of phone and text messages. Few were pleasant.

Wanting to stay one step ahead of the story this week, Telep taped the Jackson segment Sunday just in case he had decided on Notre Dame after his visit. The video was supposed to stay shelved from any and all eyes until Jackson's announcement later Thursday. But a technical glitch somewhere within the ESPN production food chain aired Telep's reaction to Jackson's commitment far earlier than planned.

"Man, as bad as you might possibly feel, I feel so much worse," Telep said Thursday afternoon. "Holy cow, I've never felt like this before. It's terrible. Just terrible."

Jackson followed through with his announcement and interview on ESPNU, which never mentioned of the early video release. His appearance lasted all of three minutes and five seconds. He then headed for ICE, home to his AAU team. With teammates and friends and curious on-lookers sprinkled across two sets of bleachers in front of him, Jackson quietly talked of his hopes and dreams at Notre Dame.

Jackson is ranked No 27 by Rivals.com, No. 24 by Scout.com and No. 19 by ESPN.com. He will be the highest rated college prospect to sign with Notre Dame since power forward Torin Francis, a five-star prospect and ranked as high as the nation's No. 15 prospect, arrived in 2002.

"He's a premier player at a premier position and a guy that Notre Dame had to have," Telep said of Jackson. "It's significant for Notre Dame."

Irish coach Mike Brey, who along with two of his assistant coaches attended Tuesday's open gym at Marian to watch Jackson, cannot comment on his newest addition until national signing day in early November.

Jackson will be the first South Bend-area prospect to sign with Notre Dame during Brey's 12-plus year tenure. He will be the first Michiana player on the Irish men's basketball roster since guard B.J. Kloska (Elkhart), who also attended Marian, and Tom Krizmanich (Warsaw) were walk-on guards in 1998-99.

Jackson will be the first area player on scholarship at Notre Dame since swingman Pete Miller (1994-97). Miller was a former walk-on who eventually earned a scholarship and served as team captain in 1997.

Jackson also considered Butler, Michigan State and Xavier during the recruiting process. There were rumblings as far back as early January that he had committed to Michigan State. Choosing to hold off on his verbal commitment until the fall, Jackson also heard from Florida State, Kansas and Louisville during the summer evaluation period.

Jackson joins combo guards V.J. Beachem (Fort Wayne) and Steve Vasturia (Philadelphia) for a Notre Dame recruiting class that likely will be ranked in the nation's Top 10.

"Going to the ACC, you better have guys like that who can be special," Telep said. "Those are good players."

Beachem, who also visited last weekend, and Jackson have become fast friends in the last year. But the one who committed last fall never tried to sway the one who committed this fall. The two did talk Thursday. They talked of a bright future. Together.

"He said," Jackson said, "let's win championships."

Former Irish guard Demetrius Jackson was all smiles that September day in 2012 when he committed to play for Notre Dame. Jackson is leaving school early for the NBA.Tribune File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

Editor's Note

Each week during the college basketball season, NDI takes a look back at a memorable Irish game with a reprint of the story that appeared in the South Bend Tribune.

This week's Irish Rewind seems fitting given what transpired late Tuesday when Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson announced he would bypass his senior season and enter the NBA draft.

On a September afternoon in 2012 at ICE Athletic Facility in Mishawaka, Jackson announced he would attend Notre Dame.  This story appeared in the September 28, 2012 edition of the Tribune.

If you have a suggestion for Irish Rewind, send it to tnoie@ndinsider.com.