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Waking The Echoes: Jackson returns home

Andrew Owens | Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tory Jackson has always been unselfish.

Growing up as the second-youngest of 14 children, he learned to be patient.

As the starting point guard for four years at Notre Dame, he focused on finding his teammates in the right position to succeed.

Now, as a high school basketball coach, his daily efforts are concentrated on putting young men in the right position to succeed.

“It’s fun to see them grow and go through the same things I was going through. That’s the best part about it,” said Jackson, a 2010 Notre Dame graduate who now coaches at Buena Vista High School in Saginaw, Mich., where he starred as a coveted recruit prior to suiting up for the Irish.

But as Jackson has quickly discovered, sometimes the growing process is dependent on the head coach. He made the decision to forfeit four games this season due to disciplinary issues with his team, which is 11-7 including the four forfeits.

“It wasn’t hard because they wouldn’t become successful off the court and they could just cheat through life,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to just be a coach who wins, but to see kids grow and maybe use it as a stepping stool to get a free scholarship like I did at a great university – one of the best in the country.

“Maybe they could take that same route and earn success and give back.”

Jackson hopes he can inspire individuals to improve life in Saginaw, which was named the most violent city per capita in the United States in Jan. 2010 and has suffered an immense population loss for more than a decade.

“If I’m giving back, they can give back and the next person can to give our city a chance. It’s going to start with a group of us,” he said. “Maybe my kids can talk to their friends and do the right thing and I wouldn’t allow them to cheat their way through and do some things that weren’t right.”

The transition from Saginaw to Notre Dame was at times a difficult one, Jackson said, but he depended on members of the basketball program to help him embrace the life of a Notre Dame athlete. He said sports information director Bernie Cafarelli was “a second mother” during his time at the University and credited the coaches with creating an ideal atmosphere for players.

“They made the whole transition of going from an urban city where you get nothing but trouble to going somewhere like Notre Dame [easier],” he said. “The coaches helped me experience something different. It was a lot of schoolwork trying to be successful off the court when I first got there and then [Irish coach Mike] Brey made it easy on the court.”

Jackson, who played in all 136 games during his four seasons with the Irish, was catapulted into the starting lineup early in his freshman season when former guard Kyle McAlarney was suspended after his arrest for marijuana possession. Jackson helped lead the program’s first charge into the NCAA tournament in four years and guided Notre Dame to two more before graduating.

“Coach Brey took the pressure off me and he just took it upon himself to let us play basketball and enjoy life, and it was by far one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” Jackson said.

After he was undrafted by the NBA, he played in the NBA Development League for two seasons before returning to Saginaw to make a difference in the city and with the players at his alma mater.

“Sometimes it’s tough,” said Jackson on transitioning from player to coach. “I’m trying to figure out how to get them pumped up and not me too pumped up. It’s a little tough but it’s the fun part of it: trying to adjust, seeing how coaches would deal with me.

“I used to stress about me at times and figure out different things, but it’s been fun. The best part about it is when we win and see those guys smile.”

Sometimes figuring it out involves an unselfish decision, not the easy one.

Jackson knows all about that.

Contact Andrew Owens at [email protected]