Celtics grab Demetrius Jackson in second round of NBA Draft

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Answering adversity is nothing new for former Notre Dame junior guard Demetrius Jackson.

Whether being raised in foster care or overcoming the struggles of his freshman season in college, Jackson was determined to push through the process toward something better that he believed awaited on the other side.

Now the former Marian High School standout and McDonald’s All-American will have to do it again as a professional basketball player.

Once touted as a potential Top 15 pick and certain first-round talent in the NBA Draft, Jackson, who left school a year early to chase his basketball dream, slipped into the sometimes-uncertain and shaky status of the second round Thursday.

Jackson was the No. 45 overall selection by the Boston Celtics.

He becomes the first Michiana native since 1989 selected by the NBA. That year, former Concord High School standout Shawn Kemp was a first-round pick (17th overall) of the Seattle Sonics. He played 14 seasons with four teams.

The first Irish to leave early for the NBA since 2001 when All-American Troy Murphy skipped his senior season and was the No. 14 selection of the Golden State Warriors, Jackson is the second former Notre Dame guard to be drafted in as many summers. All-American Jerian Grant, the No. 19 overall pick last June who was traded twice on draft night. Grant was traded for a third time Wednesday to the Chicago Bulls in a deal that included former league most valuable player Derrick Rose.

Jackson’s selection marks the first time since 2001-02 that Notre Dame has had NBA draft picks in consecutive summers.

In some ways the odds might be stacked against him. Of last season’s 30 second-round selections, only 11 played at least one NBA game during their rookie seasons. Among those lucky few to secure roster spots was former Irish teammate Pat Connaughton. He was taken No. 41 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers.

In many cases, second-round picks either spend their rookie pro seasons in the NBA Development league or are stashed in Europe for more seasoning.

While first-round draft picks become instant millionaires, second-round picks rarely receive guaranteed contracts. Connaughton was the exception, earning a two-year guaranteed deal that paid him $625,093 last season.

Waiting game

Jackson and his camp played it cool in the days leading into the draft, though behind the scenes a good deal of anxiety existed. Jackson had hoped and even dreamed of spending draft night alongside other first-round hopefuls in the Barclays Center green room. But he was not among the 19 prospects invited.

Was that a sign of first-round uncertainty? That his draft stock, which seemed as high as a lottery lock months earlier, was sliding? That teams were wary of his height, measured at 6-foot-1 at last month’s combine?

Everyone around Jackson – his agents, his AAU coach, family members and friends - stressed the importance of staying positive this week. It wasn’t a question of if but when he would hear his name called.

Still, with so many hours left to wait and wonder and maybe even worry, doubt was always wandering around, knocking on the door, asking to be included in the conversation.

Jackson watched the draft from Club Naimoli above Purcell Pavilion with family members and friends who have been there to help give him a stable life, a life that allowed him to chase his hoops hopes and dreams.

Going the uneasy route is nothing new for Jackson.

Arriving at Notre Dame in the same McDonald’s class that delivered to the NBA future lottery picks Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins, Jackson struggled to find his college footing. Long hailed as the local schoolboy star, he sometimes wrestled with criticism when his freshman season included several stops and starts and even a team suspension.

He often wondered how anyone locally could knock him and his game.

What he had to eventually understand was that it was nothing personal, not a ding on him or his character, but done because he had the chops to be good.

Maybe even NBA draft-pick good.

But that was going to take time, patience and perseverance. By the end of his collegiate career, Jackson was playing arguably his best basketball. He had a certain swagger to his game that had before been only on display in small doses. There was an ease about him during March Madness.

By the time he started to embrace it all, to feel comfortable with his myriad skills and his power place in the Irish program, it was all over.

When Notre Dame fell short of its first Final Four since 1978 with an NCAA Tournament East Regional final loss to North Carolina on Easter Sunday, Jackson talked of having to make a decision soon on his future.

Irish coach Mike Brey offered up the blueprint that figured would be followed in the coming weeks – Jackson would declare for the draft but not sign with an agent. He would go to Chicago in mid-May to see how his skills and his game measured up at the NBA Combine. He would receive feedback from the NBA decision-makers and know by the end of the month whether he would leave early or return to make one final run with the Irish.

Standing steps away in a somber Wells Fargo Center locker room and within earshot of his soon-to-be-former coach, Jackson remained relatively silent on the subject.

But he was done. He knew it. Deep down, so did Brey.

Next step

Two days later, Jackson was gone, off on the three-month draft process that has seen him sign with Priority Sports, move into a residence hotel in downtown Chicago to train, crisscross the country for team workouts and do everything he could to put him in the position he found himself in Thursday.

It’s been a long journey for Jackson to get to this point, a journey that now takes a whole new road. Summer league starts next month, training camp comes calling in October before the 82-game grind of the regular season beckons – IF he earns a roster spot.

Don’t bet against him.

Jackson played in the Atlantic Coast Conference – arguably the nation’s toughest college basketball conference – for three years. His game improved each winter. He led an Irish team that went back to the Elite Eight a second-straight March in scoring (15.8), assists (4.6) and steals (43). He often was at his best on the biggest of stages, and in March, the season’s most important time. That’s what it will be like in the NBA. Every. Single. Night.

Basketball has long been Jackson’s outlet, and it’s now nothing but from here on out. There will be ups and downs. Makes and misses. The Association and the D-League can be cruel. Unforgiving. Exhausting. At times, suffocating and maddeningly lonely. Yet unbelievably fulfilling.

This is the life that Jackson once could only dream of.

Now he has it.

Time to run with it and beat the odds.