Jackson emerges as a leader
Manuel De Jesus | Monday, January 19, 2015
It’s not easy following up someone like Eric Atkins, who finished his career at Notre Dame 18th on the all-time scoring list and third in assists, but sophomore guard Demetrius has transitioned smoothly into his new starring role.
Jackson came to Notre Dame as a four-star recruit from local Marian High School, where he was named a McDonald’s All-American. Scouted as one of the best players in the 2013 recruiting class, Jackson entered the program and sat behind Atkins the majority of his freshman year. Despite only scoring six points a game, Jackson made solid contributions throughout the year, including a 17-point performance in a loss against Miami.
Now a sophomore, Jackson has stepped into a leadership role and now runs the point with ease and maturity, which coach Mike Brey can attest to.
“Demetrius Jackson’s mental toughness and leadership is vastly underrated,” Brey said.
This season, the Mishawaka, Indiana, native is averaging 13.6 points per game to go along with 53 percent shooting from the floor, which ranks second among Notre Dame’s starters.
“He is taking people by storm,” Brey said. “He is strong and talks in timeouts and practices hard while setting a great tone for us.”
Jackson has stepped up this season as a versatile shooter, honing in on his ability to not only make drives to the basket, but also shoot from long range. He has shot 41.7 percent from behind the arc. Against Michigan State and Purdue, Jackson set a new career high in scoring, contributing 22 points in each contest, which both resulted in wins for the Irish.
Ranked No. 8 in the latest AP poll, Notre Dame has made itself a contender in the ACC, and Jackson understands that the team has taken a 180-degree turn from last year’s sub-.500 finish. Jackson has also said that it is not just about him, which causes him to avoid speaking as an individual in relation to the team’s success this season.
“We’ve made big steps from last year, but we have a lot more improvements that to make and we can get so much better,” Jackson said.
Brey said Jackson has done everything and more that he expected out of him as a first-year starter thus far into the season.
“He’s the first one to challenge guys, and that’s an area of growth I have seen that is helping our team, him as a leader,” Brey said. “The basketball stuff he’s doing is excellent. He’s come so far with his decision-making with the ball. He really is a guard now. That was my biggest concern giving him the ball this year, was could he be good enough with the basketball and making decisions with it?”
Jackson’s decision-making hasn’t been a problem for the Irish this season. He has accumulated just 25 turnovers through 19 games, 14 fewer than Atkins had last season through the same number of games. Regardless of Jackson’s ability to protect the ball, he continues to hold himself accountable to limiting turnovers on a game-to-game basis, Brey said.
“He gets so mad at turnovers, because he knows in our program and with our point guards, that’s something that’s a mortal sin,” Brey said. “I am so pleased with the basketball decision-making, and playing with Jerian (Grant) he’s learned a lot. You learn a lot playing with an all-around guard like Jerian who makes great decisions with the ball.”
Senior guard/forward captain Pat Connaughton also praised Jackson on his growth as a leader as just a sophomore.
“I think as soon as he got comfortable and the second he knew that we had his back, his leadership grew and he became more of a vocal leader on the floor,” Connaughton said.
A half-game out of first place in the ACC, Notre Dame will continue to rely on the hometown hero’s improvement as a leader as it pursues its first ACC title.