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October 15, 2013

The complete package

In less than two weeks, the Irish will unveil a level of athleticism on the basketball court rarely seen at Notre Dame.

Demetrius Jackson may not be in the starting lineup at any point during the 2013-14 season. He likely will play second fiddle to a veteran backcourt. He won’t try to deflect attention away from his older teammates.

But what you see athletically when Jackson hits the hardwood for the first time in an exhibition game on Oct. 28 against the University of Indianapolis will only be a part of what he brings to the equation.

“Our freshman class as a whole, and (Jackson) specifically, handled the summer like young men - academically, meetings, practice, and fitting in with an older group,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.

Even when Jackson was destroying the Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School record book from his freshman year on, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder was doing it in unusual fashion.

He could have hogged the ball and taken a shot any time he wanted. He could have turned games into dribbling exhibitions and launching pads. He could have scored as many points as he would have liked.

But at an early age, Jackson knew the best way to maximize his team’s abilities was to get everyone involved.

“When I step on the court, I try to be a basketball player,” Jackson said. “Being a point guard, I want to kick the ball to our guys that have the hot hand. We have shooters here. Wherever they need me to provide a spark, I provide a spark.”

Brey, who has always allowed his players to play loose and without concern of letting it fly, won’t be holding up the stop sign to Jackson unless he takes a bad shot, which he’s not inclined to do anyway.

“Right now, he defers a little too much to the older guys, but that’s okay,” Brey said. “There’s an energy that he gives. There’s juice there and another gear that we really haven’t had around this program in a long, long time.”

Notre Dame has characteristics that most in its new league - the Atlantic Coast Conference - don’t boast. On one hand, the Irish are bigger than most with 6-foot-11, 255-pound Garrick Sherman, 6-foot-10, 258-pound Tom Knight, and 6-foot-10, 242-pounds Zach Auguste. When the Irish also had 6-foot-9, 246-pound Jack Cooley and 6-foot-9, 242-pound Mike Broghammer in the mix, they had some of the most physical practices in the country.

Now, with Jackson joining veteran guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, and 6-foot-7 sophomore Cameron Biedscheid, the Irish have some perimeter firepower, quickness and length to go along with a large front line.

“I’ve played (Jackson) a lot with Grant and Atkins on the perimeter, and those three guys have a lot of fun together because you have three quick guys who can contest and pressure the ball more than we’ve ever done here, and also run the floor in transition,” Brey said.

Meanwhile, Jackson dials back the excitement, trying to keep things in perspective and keep his eyes on the target, which is to make the Irish better with his presence in the program.

“It’s just my nature as a person, and that kind of translates onto the basketball court,” Jackson said. “Every time I step on the basketball court, I try to be a wise basketball player, so where plays need to be made, I try to make those plays.”

Wisdom includes learning from your elders.

“He comes to me a lot during practice, asking me what I see on this play, that play,” said Atkins, now in his fourth and final season with the Irish. “He’s always trying to learn, and that’s what I love about him.”

Jackson also shows maturity when talking about playing for the Irish in his hometown, which can become a distraction for those who aren’t prepared for the local hoopla surrounding him.

Former South Bend standout Skylar Diggins showed how a local star could make it work at Notre Dame. She was adored by the masses and soaked it up. Jackson is more inclined to play a supporting role and facilitate his teammates.

“A lot of people talk about the whole Skylar thing and try to compare me to her,” Jackson said. “But I want to make my own path and move forward. I love just having some of the people from my hometown come support me.

“Being a hometown person, I don’t think you can go wrong with it. Having people come support you and cheer you on. I feel like it’s all positive.”

Brey tries to temper some of the uproar around Jackson, just to keep things in perspective.

“He’s got to get better,” Brey said. “He was a high school player last year, and as much as everybody gets excited about him, and I’m as excited as anybody, there are going to be days when he looks like a freshman. We’re really patient with him. He’s starting to be a little more vocal as he gets to know our system.

“The two best teachers for him may not be on the coaching staff. It may be Atkins and Grant, and they’ve really been good at nurturing him along and getting him more confident and telling him to shoot it, drive it, go ahead and attack more.”

Brey will spend more time trying to coerce the flash out of Jackson than he will be suppressing it.

“I think he’s happy with the way I’m distributing,” said Jackson of Brey. “He’d like to see me be a little more aggressive, but not to force anything and be a good basketball player.”

Maturity. Common sense. Wisdom. Oh, yeah, and incredible athleticism, too.


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