SOUTH BEND – With three available scholarships to offer and a history of helping college transfers reinvent themselves and take their games to never-before-seen levels, Mike Brey plans to be very active on the transfer waiver wire this spring.
“We’ll thoroughly investigate one, maybe two,” said Brey, who also didn’t close the door on adding a possible late-rising high school senior who may have fallen through early-signing period recruiting cracks. “There’s nothing out there now, but in about two months, there would be a lot of movement again.”
The interest isn’t always one-sided. Having helped former Irish guards Ben Hansbrough (the 2010-11 Big East player of the year) and Scott Martin and now power forward Garrick Sherman recharnge their careers has made Notre Dame an attractive landing spot for college players looking to hit the reset button.
“The transfer wire, people call us because we’ve had success with it,” Brey said. “We’ve reinvented a lot of guys. We get a lot of phone calls, which is great, because they’ve seen the track record.”
Brey wouldn’t mind adding a college graduate who has one year of eligibility remaining and who could play right away. He also would like a transfer, preferably a big, who might be able to petition the NCAA to play right away because of a special family circumstance.
“I am very open to all of those options right now,” Brey said.
Notre Dame loses three players to graduation/eligibility exhaustion – Sherman, guard Eric Atkins and Tom Knight. The Irish have two prep seniors (Bonzie Colson, Martin Geben) ready to enroll in June. Jerian Grant, who has one year of eligibility remaining after being kicked out of school at the end of the fall semester, also plans to return to finish work toward his undergraduate degree.
Jackson Is Team’s Latest Worry
Had it been any other season with any other group of guys, the most recent bombshell to detonate over the Notre Dame men’s basketball program would have been too crazy to even comprehend.
But weird doings have been par for the course this season for a team that has seen and experienced and handled everything from their top player (Grant) being kicked out of school for academics, their top recruit from two years ago (Cameron Biedscheid) deciding to first sit out the year and then transferring and a key sophomore (Austin Burgett) needing midseason heart surgery.
On the evening of Feb. 11, some 60 minutes before Notre Dame would host Clemson in the first-ever meeting between the ACC colleagues, someone was missing from Irish warm-ups. Someone South Bend-area college basketball fans are very interested in.
Where was freshman guard Demetrius Jackson?
Coach Brey, a university spokesperson said, would address the situation surrounding Jackson after the game. No further comment. No press release issued. Only vagueness.
Big mistake. Big, big mistake.
Once news of Jackson’s absence became public minutes later, social media was turned on its collective head. Here was the local kid – he calls home Mishawaka, which is a 15-minute drive from the Notre Dame campus – not in uniform, not even in the building. The all-time leading scorer in the Northern Indiana Conference, the league that all of the South Bend-Mishawaka high schools call home, the former Marian High standout and McDonald’s All-American had seemingly vanished. And for nearly three hours, no one knew for how long.
The rest of the season?
The rest of his collegiate career?
Word was that Jackson had had it with his yo-yo role, which has seen him bounce from the bench to the starting lineup and back to the bench while struggling mightily to find any semblance of rhythm to a high-energy, high-octane game that saw him average 25.9 points as a prep senior. Was he indeed done?
Only after Notre Dame needed double overtime to survive Clemson for its fourth league win of the season did Brey address the situation. Jackson, he said, was being given time away from the team to concentrate on academics. He wouldn’t practice. He wouldn’t play. He wouldn’t be around the program until he improved, in Brey’s words, the “academic habits” that were so solid during the fall semester.
Brey has done it with plenty of players in the past, mainly during summer school or sometime in the fall, away from the media spotlight. Rarely has he done it this late in the season, and never with a guy with the prep credentials like Jackson’s.
Jackson didn’t play against Clemson and didn’t travel to Boston the following weekend for the game against Boston College, which turned out to be Notre Dame’s first-ever ACC road win.
Following the victory, Brey told the South Bend Tribune that Jackson had indeed been better with his academics and that he would be back in practice the next day.
“We need him, but I don’t want to rush him,” Brey said. “He just needed a message sent. This was not a university thing. It’s just habits, just learning, realigning priorities.
“He needed some time to catch up and he did.”
The following afternoon, instead of being one of the last out of the locker room and on the practice floor, which had become a common occurrence during his season’s struggles, Jackson was one of the first. He was bouncing around. He was joking with teammates. But he spent his first day back, and likely will spend the rest of his freshman season, without offering comment.
“We don’t need Demetrius to be a spokesperson at this point,” Brey told the Tribune as a reason for his shutdown to silence.
Jackson returned to game action Feb. 19 with 17 points and five assists, both career highs, in 27 minutes. He also attempted a career-high 13 shots and looked more determined and more aggressive than at any point this season in a 71-64 loss at Miami. It was a small step back for him, but small steps, Brey believes, are positive steps right now for Jackson, who has been counseled time and again all season to be patient with the plan.
“This is a long-term developing guy,” Brey said.
Jackson is as quick and as athletic and explosive a guard as the Irish have ever had, but listed at 6-1, Jackson has struggled to finish against longer, athletic players, players he seldom saw during his hot-shot high school days. He’s played a bit too cautious with the ball, which has led to turnovers and quick trips to the bench.
The more he’s tried to relax and just play, the more uptight he’s seemed and hasn’t delivered. He’s looked nothing like the confident, attacking kid who finished second to Michigan’s Zak Irvin last spring for Indiana Mr. Basketball.
Jackson’s season seemingly bottomed out in late January when he started and played 22 minutes but did not attempt a single shot in a seven-point loss at Wake Forest. Afterward, he was asked by the Tribune how someone who is needed to score for the offensively challenged Irish to have a chance wouldn’t so much as look at the basket.
“Good question,” Jackson deadpanned, but didn’t elaborate.
Jackson then was asked what he and the Irish could do better to get him going offensively.
“It’s another good question,” he said, again without further explanation.
When will answers arrive?