Demetrius Jackson entered the Notre Dame basketball program holding an impressive set of offers from major college basketball programs. As a McDonald's All-American point guard, much was expected of the Mishawaka product.
Our own CW had this to say about Jackson before his freshman campaign:
Jackson's going to bounce around the perimeter on offense, but his job on defense is going to remain consistent throughout the season: Wreak havoc on the opposition's best guard. DJ (can we call him DJ?) is a truly elite talent that I cannot wait to see him in action. I'm attempting not to oversell things here after conducting last fall's Biedscheid Hype Train, but this is going to be really fun.
It would be unfair to call Demetrius Jackson's freshman season at Notre Dame a disappointment. He played the 4th most minutes on the team, scored 6 ppg on 42/42/78 shooting. However, Jackson seemed to suffer a crisis of confidence in the heart of the ACC season. As someone who played with the ball in his hands his entire life, Jackson had to settle into a role alongside senior captain Eric Atkins, who was 18th in the country in % of minutes played on the season. Youth and a challenging adjustment to an unfamiliar role hurt Jackson's finishing at the rim and also led to far too many turnovers on the offensive end. DJ's 21.4 TORate on the season was higher than even Garrick Sherman's 20.5. You can't turn it over one out of every 5 possessions and expect to have a ton of success in Brey's system.
Jackson's learning curve also extended to the defensive end of the floor. Listed a 6'1" and 195 lbs, Jackson had both the size and athleticism to play outstanding on-the ball defense, yet frequently he was asked to pick up 2 guards with Atkins on the floor. Instead of pressuring the ball, Jackson found himself in many more help rotations and playing far more zone than he likely anticipated.
In his media day press conference, Irish head coach Mike Brey talked about the boost in confidence he expects in Jackson's sophomore season:
With Demetrius, again, that he knows he's the guy. There's no Atkins there to kind of play off of him, "am I backing him up?" You're the quarterback, it's your team, run the team, but we need this from you. And we kind of stumbled on his role or evolved into his role after the second game in Italy. I was going down each guy and telling them and I said "Demetrius I think we found the role for you and we're going to keep it really simple. You need to pressure the ball man because no one can pressure the ball like you. Maybe in the league. You're really good at it. And just run our team and make good decisions with the ball. Don't worry about the other stuff. And I think that's helped him do that. It's simplified and he's been more efficient with it. When you get reps with Grant and [Connaughton] and [Vasturia], who are pretty steady, they are who they are everyday guys, I think you kind of drag some of those young guys with you when you're veterans like that and they learn to be more consistent on a daily basis.
Count me among those ready to see Jackson make a big leap in his first season running the team. On the defensive end of the floor, his role is going to be greatly simplified: make the opposing PG's life hell. Jackson will trace the ball and apply pressure. In all likelihood, Notre Dame will be playing an undersized stretch 4, so Jackson will be called upon to use ball pressure to make entry passes more challenging and push the opposition defense away from the rim.
Offensively, Jackson gets the ball. He'll get the responsibility of turning that defensive effort into offense. With Grant and Jackson, the Irish have the potential to change ends of the floor as fast as anyone in the country. With Steve Vasturia and Pat Connaughton spreading the floor and Zach Auguste filling the lane, Jackson will get more room to push the ball all the way to the rim. In the half-court, Jackson's game will be aided by the move to more 4-around-1 looks vs. last season's 2-bigs sets. Where Sherman's game was played almost exclusively within 8 ft. of the rim, Auguste's going to be asked to set a lot of perimeter screens and get more high post touches to open up the offense.
Statistically, Jackson will have to cut his turnover rate as he moves from playing 51% of the available minutes to something closer to 90% this year. The Irish can't live with a PG playing at a 21.4 TORate. Dropping that number to 10-15 would dramatically improve Jackson's efficiency ratings on the offensive end of the floor. The fact Jackson shot such similar percentages on 2FG and 3FG tells the story of his challenges finishing at the rim vs. packed defenses. I expect his 2FG% to rise and also impact his ORtg in the upcoming season. On the other end, watch to see if Jackson can improve on his 3.5 fouls committed per 40 minutes played while staying aggressive on the ball. Last year, it seemed there were times the ACC officiating befuddled him as much as it did Irish fans.
Overall, it is easy to be bullish on Jackson's sophomore campaign. The changes in Notre Dame's style of play on both ends of the floor play in to his impressive skill set. With veteran leaders like Grant and Connaughton to provide steady leadership, Jackson is free to bring an athletic jolt to the Irish backcourt in the second ACC season.