Demetrius Jackson embraces NBA chance with Boston Celtics

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Had it all stayed on script, former Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson would have been long gone, leaving behind the family members and friends and food at his NBA Draft party.

Instead, as Thursday night fell into Friday morning, Jackson held court in a hallway near the elevators of Club Naimoli high above the Purcell Pavilion basketball floor he called home for three years.

Rather than bask in the biggest of his basketball moments, Jackson put on a happy face and made the best of a situation in which he slid to the middle of the second round of the draft. The Boston Celtics halted his free-fall by grabbing him with the No. 45 pick of Thursday’s 60-pick draft.

Jackson insisted during an eight-minute media gathering that commenced at 12:15 a.m. that frustration never became part of the wait and wonder. Eventually, there would be something special to celebrate, yet it was a subdued celebration.

Many a mock draft had Jackson as a first-round lock. But when the first round came and went and Jackson’s name still had not been called, a certain amount of frustration couldn’t help but fester.

“As a competitor, you definitely want to go high,” said Jackson, who also refused to second-guess his decision to leave school a year early. “I just wanted to be patient and trust God’s plan for me and just never lose sight of that. This is just the way things worked out.

“A new door has opened for me to continue to play the game that I love to play and I’ll continue to chase my dream.”

One of the men who helped open that NBA door for Jackson is someone that saw the kid close it on him four years earlier during his college decision.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens recruited Jackson hard when he was at Butler. Stevens texted Jackson late Thursday before the pick became official at 11:45 p.m., saying how much he looked forward to the chance to coach him. Finally.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of him,” Jackson said. “He’s a great coach. He’s one of the smartest dudes you’ll ever meet.”

Where, and maybe even if, Jackson fits into Boston’s plans will be determined in the coming weeks. Jackson was one of six Celtic draft choices. On Friday, Boston’s roster stood at 21, six above the league limit.

At best, Jackson is the fifth guard in a loaded backcourt of all-star Isaiah Thomas, defensive wizard Avery Bradley, veteran Marcus Smart and up-and-comer Terry Rozier, a second-year player from Louisville.

Nothing past next month’s summer league for Jackson is a guarantee. Not a roster spot in Boston. Not sidestepping extended stays in the Development League with the Maine Red Claws. Not even that he will play so much as a minute with the organization.

Last year’s No. 45 pick – also by Boston, and also a point guard (Marcus Thornton) – spent his rookie year in Australia.

Jackson could sign a contract with the Celtics, make in the ballpark of the NBA minimum ($507,336), then spend much of the year shuttling between Boston and Maine playing for the Red Claws. He could spend summer league with the Celtics, get released, but sign and spend the season in the D-League. There he’d make between $19,000 and $25,000. The Celtics also could sign him and send him overseas.

Any option is a long way from making a guaranteed minimum of $1.093 million as a first-round pick.

Daunting? Absolutely, though it makes Jackson even more determined.

“It’s kind of been my theme through my whole life – fighting and earning everything,” Jackson said. “It’s just helping me keep that motivation, helping me keep that chip on my shoulder and continue to do those things which kind of define me as a player.”

Why Jackson’s draft stock skidded so remains a mystery. His combine numbers, which included a 43.5-inch vertical leap, were impressive. His workouts with individual teams went well. So did his interviews. He was open. Honest. Real.

Many teams told Jackson and his agent that they loved him and his game. But 44 times Thursday, teams had a chance to love him again, but loved someone else a little more.

For ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, that’s OK. Jackson wasn’t the only one who had to wait longer than anticipated for his name to be called. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for him in the Association.

“If you’re ready to be a pro, where you get drafted is not the biggest deal,” Bilas said during Thursday’s draft broadcast.

Neither, he said, is height. Much was made about Jackson being only 6-foot-1. Jackson joked Friday morning that he might have gone earlier had he stood 6-9, but “this is the height God gave me.”

“If you’re good enough,” Bilas said, “you’re big enough.”

Long draft wait aside, Jackson believes he is.

“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life that’s helped me prepare for moments like these,” he said. “Dropping late in the draft, but to be an NBA player?

“It’s not so bad compared to some of the other things.”

 Baseline bits

• Former Irish power forward Zach Auguste was not selected Thursday. His agent, Adam Pensack, was still sorting through free agent-options Friday. Auguste recorded 22 double-doubles for points and rebounds as a senior, when he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rebounding (10.7).

• Jackson is the third Irish selected in the second round by the Boston Celtics. Guard Tracy Jackson was the No. 25 pick of the 1981 draft. Power forward Luke Harangody was the No. 52 pick in 2010. Former All-American Troy Murphy spent one year, 2011, in Boston.

• The ACC had an NCAA-best nine players selected Thursday – four in the first round, five in the second. For the third-straight season and fourth time in seven years, seven ACC schools had at least one player picked.

(574) 235-6153