Demetrius Jackson awaits NBA call

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Determined to decompress after a stress-filled early spring, former Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson hopped a flight to Orlando in early April for a week of fun and sun.

Spending time in Central Florida with his AAU coach and mentor Rod Creech allowed Jackson to unwind a bit and cross a few items off his personal bucket list. Having seen his junior season — his final collegiate season — end on Easter Sunday with a loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, Jackson became the first Irish underclassman since Troy Murphy in 2001 to go all-in on the NBA draft. He did so less than 48 hours after that East Regional final loss.

In Orlando, Jackson and Creech and his family visited SeaWorld. Creech also secured tickets in the lower bowl of Amway Center for the April 6 game between the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons.

It was the first NBA game that Jackson attended. He sat wide-eyed and watched in wonder.

“It was awesome,” Jackson said during last month's NBA Combine in Chicago, the city he has called home during the pre-draft process. “The doors that basketball has opened for me, from being able to see a different country to meeting some great people, developing relationships, growing as a person, learning life lessons, it's something I'm so thankful for.”

The second time Jackson sets foot in an NBA arena for a game, he'll likely be playing in it.

The former Mishawaka Marian High School standout and McDonald's All-American is hours away from having his life forever change during the annual NBA Draft (7 p.m.; ESPN).

Where Jackson goes and when he hears his name called remains to be determined. Getting a handle on where he fits within the 30 selections of the first round is kind of like trying to contain his energy and athleticism in the open court.

Toward the end of a junior season that saw him lead the Irish in scoring (15.8), assists (4.6) and steals (43), Jackson was touted as the first lottery pick from Notre Dame since Murphy, who went 14th to the Golden State Warriors in 2001. One of the many mock drafts had Jackson going as early as No. 12 to the Utah Jazz. Another had him sliding toward the middle of the second round.

Jackson might go anywhere from the No. 15 (Denver) pick to the early- to late-20s. Memphis could use a point guard. So could the Clippers. Then there are the perennially-rebuilding Sixers, who have three first-round picks. San Antonio would be a perfect spot at No. 29, but a source told the Tribune on Wednesday that THE Spurs don't anticipate Jackson will be available.

Who?

Where?

When?

Though these are anxious moments for Jackson and his camp, they've spent these final few days not stressing over where he'll go, but that he will go. Somewhere. The dream is that close. So close.

“I just try to control what I can control,” Jackson said. “You see the mocks, but this is a totally new process for me. I don't really know how this stuff works.

“The harder you work and the better you are, the more people will want to pick you.”

Part of it may be paralysis by analysis. NBA teams have so much time and tape on their hands that it often leads to second-guessing and nit-picking prospects. Jackson posted impressive workout numbers, including a 43.5-inch vertical leap, at the Combine. But he measured at 6-foot-1. That's a bit on the small side for today's NBA, when such a premium is placed on having size and length at every position.

In a draft that's considered thin for point guards, former Providence play-maker Kris Dunn is considered the lone can't-miss prospect. Dunn is a top-10 pick. After that, it's muddled. Jackson's firmly in a second tier of point guards that include Vanderbilt's Wade Baldwin IV, Dejounte Murray of Washington and Kentucky's Tyler Ulis, who may have been the nation's most efficient point guard last season, yet he stands only 5-9.

For Jackson, size really doesn't matter.

“If you can play, you can play,” he said. “It's really about what's inside.”

Size and insides aside, Jackson believes he can offer something that other point guards cannot. He can coexist with other guards without having the ball constantly in his control. Some of his best moments at Notre Dame came when he was paired with former All-American guard Jerian Grant, who was a first-round pick of the Washington Wizards in 2015.

Having Grant serve as the primary handler allowed Jackson to pick and choose his spots to drive and dish or spot up on the perimeter. Maybe most importantly and impressively, having Grant handle the ball allowed Jackson to turn it loose defensively.

Jackson often talked during team interviews of wanting to be an All-NBA caliber guard on the defensive end.

It wasn't always easy, but he accepted having to wear different hats at Notre Dame. Accepted that growing his game was going to take time. There were ups; there were downs. He's handled adversity on the court. And off of it. That has to hold some water with at least one team in the first round.

“Being in a lot of different situations not only on the court, but in my life has helped build me into the player that I am and the person I am today,” he said.

Jackson showed every side of himself over the past few weeks during visits with various NBA teams. He went to Phoenix, visited Denver, worked out in Detroit. He was in Boston earlier this week. Talked with representatives from Chicago, Indiana and Milwaukee. At each stop, his life was an open book. Had to be. Secrets are scarce in the Association.

“They know so much about us. They know who we are; they know what we're about,” said Jackson, who embraced every aspect of the pre-draft process. “I try to stay true to myself.

“It's not hard just being yourself.”

Considered as far back as February as a potential “green room guy” come draft night, Jackson was not among the 19 prospects extended invitations to attend Thursday's selection process at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. He'll instead take everything in with a close collection of family members and friends — and his Neapolitan mastiff, Obi — in Mishawaka.

Jackson's done just about everything he can to convince teams he's first-round worthy. Now he waits, yet rarely wonders. It's not a question of if the phone will ring. It's when.

“He's excited about his future and he's got great people working with him,” Creech said. “He's in a happy spot.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

WHAT: 2016 NBA Draft.

WHERE: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN.

PARTICULARS: Two rounds of 30 selections in each round.

WORTH NOTING: Should an NBA team select former Irish guard Demetrius Jackson in the first round, it would mark the first time since 2001-02 (Troy Murphy, Ryan Humphrey) that former Notre Dame players were first-round picks in consecutive seasons. … Thursday marks the first time since 2001-02 that Notre Dame will have at least one player taken in consecutive drafts. … Two former Irish — Jerian Grant (first round) and Pat Connaughton (second round) were selected last June. … Former Irish power forward Zach Auguste is a potential second-round pick.