SOUTH BEND — For starters, none of this is meant as an indictment against Demetrius Jackson or as any attempt to diminish the strong character and steely resolve he showed during his time at Notre Dame.
The Mishawaka Marian High School product, turned McDonald’s All-American point guard, turned Irish superstar, turned NBA hopeful, is one of the most genuine and grounded student-athletes ever to walk under the Golden Dome.
But DJ made a big mistake about three months ago when he decided to drop out of classes, turn his back on a Notre Dame degree, leave school after his junior season and chase his NBA dream with a year of college eligibility remaining.
Todd Burlage is a freelance writer who covers Notre Dame sports.
Jackson’s miscalculation came into full focus and his future fell into lengthy limbo late last week when after about three agonizing hours of watching the NBA draft, the pride of Michiana was selected by the Boston Celtics in the second round with the 45th overall selection, or about 30 picks later than many had him projected to go.
Who would’ve guessed that finally achieving a lifelong NBA dream would come with so many strings and challenges attached? A bittersweet moment, indeed.
Had Jackson’s pre-draft projections held up and he was taken with one of the 30 first-round selections, he would’ve been guaranteed a two-year contract worth at least the league minimum of $1.093 million.
Unfortunately, second-round picks are guaranteed nothing, especially given the difficult circumstances Jackson was dealt by the team that selected him.
At best, Jackson enters the Boston Celtics summer league next month as the No. 5 guard on a team loaded with backcourt players that include all-star Isiah Thomas, defensive standout Avery Bradley, veteran Marcus Smart and budding second-year standout Terry Rozier.
Cal “Game Face” Lee, co-host of “The Baseline” weekly NBA podcast, believes Jackson to the Celtics was the worst marriage for both player and team during the entire 60-person draft.
“I just didn’t like it overall for the Boston Celtics and I really feel bad because I feel like Demetrius Jackson on another basketball team could probably be somebody that could be well-needed, well-suited and could get an opportunity to make a very good impact,” Lee said. “But if you already have six or seven guards on your roster, no matter what Demetrius Jackson does — even through summer league and even going into the training camp — he is not going to have enough time and enough minutes to add to his value.”
So what’s next for Jackson?
Well, considering that nothing past summer league ball is guaranteed for him, it’s tough to say.
The best case scenario is that Jackson overcomes the odds, signs a contract with the Celtics and makes about $300,000 this season while shuffling between the big club in Boston and the Celtics' Developmental League team in Maine.
But keep in mind, of the 30 players selected in the second round of the NBA Draft in 2015, only 11 ever appeared in an NBA game during their rookie season.
A less attractive possibility is that Jackson could get released by the Celtics after summer league, then sign with another organization and spend the season in the D-League where he’d make about $25,000 and fight the good fight to keep his NBA relevancy.
Boston could also sign Jackson and send him to play and improve oversees in the same way the organization did last year when they sent second-round pick Marcus Thornton — another point guard — to Australia for his rookie season.
“It’s kind of been my theme through my whole life, fighting and earning everything,” Jackson said late last Thursday night, shortly after his long draft wait finally came to an end. “It’s just helping me keep that motivation.”
Jackson need not look far for inspiration. Former Irish teammate Pat Connaughton was one of the few draftees last season who overcame second-round odds and spent the entire year on an active NBA roster, signing a two-year deal with the Portland Trailblazers worth about $625,000.
That said, Connaughton covered all of his bases and took a more calculated approach than Jackson while chasing his NBA dream, knowing full well that athletic careers can be fleeting and unpredictable.
“I never even considered leaving Notre Dame without my degree,” Connaughton said in a recent interview about his NBA journey. “My time at Notre Dame would have felt incomplete, like I left some unfinished business behind. I didn’t want to ever have to look back with any regrets.”
Jackson said he has no regrets for leaving a comfortable situation in Notre Dame for a difficult one in Boston, but perhaps there is a cautionary tale here that uncertainty will forever be the only predictability about professional sports.
“This is the way things worked out,” Jackson said. “I have a new opportunity, new door open for me. I’m going to continue to chase my dream.”
And we’ll all be watching and rooting.