Former Notre Dame G Demetrius Jackson embraces pro process

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CHICAGO – This time is his time.

When Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson bypassed his senior year to chase his professional basketball dream, one reason was the chance to learn about life outside the only space he had ever known – the oft-insulated bubble of Saint Joseph County where he spent all of his previous 21-plus years be it in grade school, at Marian High School or the last three years in college.

Going all-in on next month’s NBA draft, where’s he’s a projected first-round pick and potential lottery selection, allowed Jackson the chance to get away and go all-in on life.

Having signed with agent Mark Bartelstein and Chicago-based Priority Sports, Jackson has called this city home for much of the last six weeks.

He lives here. He trains here. He shares a downtown hotel residence with former Gonzaga swingman Kyle Wiltjer, also a Priority client. Every waking hour of every waking day is centered around basketball. No classes. No homework, Just hoops. It’s about working on his ball-handling for two hours a day. Cone drills to fine-tune speed and conditioning. About studying even more film of the game. About getting his game even better for the elite of the elite. About becoming even more of a man.




“Basketball’s been my life,” Jackson said. “It’s something I’m fully invested in.”

This week’s job audition took Jackson to the annual NBA draft combine at Quest Multisport on the city’s west side. His family, be it biological or foster, one that now also include his Neapolitan Mastiff puppy, Obi, remains a short ride away in Indiana.

But being out on his own, doing it on his own, appeals to Jackson.

“Finally, right?” Jackson joked. “It’s been amazing. I’m really enjoying the process, trying to have fun. Truly blessed to be here in this position.”

That process has ramped up another level as the June 23 draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., nears. Jackson already has met with a handful of NBA teams including Detroit, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio. He plans to meet with Chicago and Philadelphia.

Most of those conferences center less on what Jackson does on the court and more on how he is away from it.

“The biggest thing is character,” Jackson said. “I want to show them who I am as a person and that I’m genuine. Character is the biggest thing, and then heart and effort.

“I’m giving my all every single day.”

Regardless of what the next six weeks hold, Jackson is expected to hear his name called relatively early when the two-round, 60-section process unfolds.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one scout for a Western Conference team has Jackson pegged to fall somewhere between pick Nos. 15 and 20 in the first round. After this week’s combine testing, Jackson could move into lottery land.

“Perfectly made for the NBA game,” ESPN draft analyst Fran Fraschilla said during a pre-combine teleconference. “He's going to get wherever he wants on the court.”

Jackson will give Notre Dame consecutive first-round NBA draft picks for the first time since the 2001-02 seasons (Troy Murphy, Ryan Humphrey). He could be the first Irish lottery pick since 2001 when Murphy was selected with the No. 14 by the Golden State Warriors.

Former Irish guard Jerian Grant was a first-round pick (19th overall) by the Washington Wizards last summer. Like Grant, Jackson chose not to participate in the five-on-five scrimmages at Quest this week. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t impressed.

There was a good reason why Jackson was nearly 45 minutes late for his scheduled 15-minute media interview session. He was busy going through his individual skill testing, and entered the interview area a whole lot proud of his vertical leap.

Last May, former teammate Pat Connaughton, whose rookie year wrapped Wednesday with the Portland Trail Blazers, registered a 44-inch vertical leap, second-best in combine history.

Jackson, who was measured at just over 6-foot-1 in shoes, had designs of eclipsing Connaughton’s mark. His best jump was 43.5.

“During my time at Notre Dame, we’d both go up for rebounds, and look at each other while we were in the air,” Jackson said. “And then you’re like, ‘You got it, Pat. You got it.’”

Pressure? What pressure? For someone who’s never been through this process, Jackson was loose and relaxed Thursday as he’d ever been in the public eye back at Notre Dame. In a pro environment, he carried himself like one.

“I try to have fun, try to show my character,” he said. “The competitor in me, I’m just trying to do the best in every single event.

“It’s been a blast.”

This week is the second time that Jackson was in the Quest facility. The first time was just over three years ago when he was still a senior at Marian. This was where Jackson and the rest of the 2013 McDonald’s All-American worked out in the days leading into the annual all-star showcase held a few blocks northeast at United Center.

Back then, NBA teams knew a lot about fellow McDonald's All-Americans and future NBA lottery picks Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins. They knew little of Jackson and about his game. Now they do through his work in college. Sit-down interviews with individual teams that last about 30 minutes also allow Jackson to share even more about his story. About his life. About his hopes. His dreams.

That week in 2013 marked the first time that Jackson had ever been in the NBA arena, something that’s going to change for him in a big way.


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Demetrius Jackson, from Notre Dame, participates in the NBA draft basketball combine, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)