Mike Brey has turned the keys over to Demetrius Jackson; NBA champ Steph Curry provided Jackson with driving lessons during the SC 30 Select Camp in California’s Bay Area in late-June.
One of four points guards invited to help instruct 24 of the top high school players in the country, Jackson – a junior this fall and the de facto leader of the 2015-16 squad – soaked up the experience.
“I just wanted to be like a sponge and take it all in,” said Jackson, who received a video invitation from Curry this spring to join point guards Melo Trimble (Maryland), Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern) and Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall) as camp counselors for Curry’s high school elite camp sponsored by Under Armour.
“Just seeing how (Curry) interacted with other people in a professional way, as well as with the players, I learned a lot listening to him, watching him, engaging with other people…it was really cool just to be able to learn from him,” said Jackson of Curry, who helped lead the Golden State Warriors to the NBA title.
By all accounts, Jackson impressed Curry as well as former coaches/camp instructors Fran Fraschilla and Doug Collins, who stayed in contact with Irish head coach Mike Brey during the event.
“It was a confidence-giver to him to be able to develop a relationship with Steph Curry, Doug Collins, who’s a good friend, and Fran Fraschilla,” Brey said. “Doug Collins’ text to me after the first day was, ‘He’s a stud and he’s a winner.’
“It helped grow his leadership, which is so important to us this season. He needs to be that voice. He got the leadership award. They said he was unbelievable communicating with people. They said he worked with the high school kids in the morning sessions and he was fabulous with the kids.”
Jackson’s participation in the SC 30 Select Camp was as important to Brey as it was to his junior point guard. Both are making the transition leadership-wise from the Pat Connaughton/Jerian Grant era to the Demetrius Jackson era as he grabs the baton from his older brethren.
“One of the things I talked to Doug Collins about moving forward is becoming a consistent leader,” Jackson said. “Not too high, not too low. Just being consistent throughout the whole year because it’s a long season, especially on the next level.”
Jackson’s leadership will be a mix of what he’s learned from Connaughton and Grant as well as an approach that fits his own personality.
“Pat was always able to keep everybody calm and together,” Jackson said. “He was able to bring guys back together, him and Jerian both. One good thing about our team now is we’ve seen what Jerian and Pat do. It’s not just me being a leader.”
And yet while Zach Auguste and Steve Vasturia will do most of their leading by example, and role players such as Austin Burgett and Austin Torres will provide an emotional spark from the sideline when they’re not on the court, the primary leadership role falls on the shoulders of Jackson.
“Kenny Blakeney, a former DeMatha and Duke player, who works for Under Armour, said it wasn’t even close who the best prospect was of the four college guys,” Brey said. “He called him a machine.
“Ten guys voted on the leadership award and it was unanimous. Everybody raved about the way he communicated and his personality. It was a great growth experience for him. He touched all the bases.”
Jackson tapped into some of Curry’s off-season workouts, which he plans to incorporate the rest of the summer and leading into the start of official practice sessions in October. Curry provided Jackson with a blueprint for the transition from amateur to professional basketball player.
“The stuff you see on TV with his family, it’s really genuine, you can tells it’s authentic,” said Jackson of Curry. “It’s not fake; it’s not an act.
“He went through all the drills with us. There was one time when we had to run and he got on the line and ran with us. He laced them up with us and worked hard.”
Jackson’s leadership style began to shine through during Notre Dame’s run to the Elite Eight last year when Connaughton and Grant were the primary leaders, although Jackson emerged as a physical force as well as a voice.
“You want to hold each other accountable because you know how great each of the players can be,” Jackson said. “At the same time, I want to be able to communicate with guys in a way that lifts them up, not breaks them down. Build people up.
“Not too high, not to low and being able to engage with everybody in an individual way, and then being able to talk to the group collectively, motivate people, get them to be able to play harder, get them to bring out the best in each of my guys.”
Collins talked extensively with Jackson about staying on an even keel and not allowing a turnover or a bad sequence of events to alter his leadership.
“That’s the challenge because you’ve got to be responsible for yourself before you can hold other people accountable,” Jackson said. “If I can continue to get better and grow, I can be a more consistent leader.”
Jackson also has focused on some other aspects of his game this summer. Collins gave him some tips about how to correct a shot that turns flat at times. Curry gave Jackson his phone number if he needs to touch base.
“I’ve been working a lot on pulling up on my mid-range,” Jackson said. “One thing I learned out there was to get my footwork better and off my last dribble, pound it hard, almost like making it a pass to yourself. Be efficient with my dribble, getting to certain spots, but especially my mid-range jumper.
“I feel better as a leader already, just being able to communicate with guys based off what I’ve seen in my time here. You can never stop getting better. I just want to continue to grow. I just want to have fun, get better, and win.”