How Demetrius Jackson went from foster care to the NBA

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) — Demetrius Jackson, a junior and star point guard at the University of Notre Dame announced he would be leaving school immediately to prepare for the NBA Draft Combine in May. He will sign with an agent in the coming weeks in hopes of becoming a first round lottery pick in the NBA Draft in June.

Jackson was a star athlete at Marian High School, and decided to stay in the area to play for Coach Mike Brey at the University of Notre Dame. In three seasons, he’s helped change the culture of the Irish basketball program, leading Notre Dame to the Elite 8 each of the last two seasons.

“When I was in high school, people would talk about how Notre Dame would lose in the first round every year and things like that, but people don’t say that about us anymore,” Jackson said Wednesday.

Now, Demetrius is ready for the next challenge in life and that’s the NBA.

“A dream come true, and it’s been my goal for such a long time. So to be able to have the opportunity to kind of reach that goal; [it’s] just an amazing feeling,” said Jackson.

On the verge of reaching the NBA, what would a young Demetrius be thinking right now? He said the, “10-year-old me would probably be crying back there somewhere, just kind of happy, tears of joy.”

That’s because Demetrius didn’t have it easy growing up. He was in the foster care system when he found the Whitfield family of Mishawaka, Indiana, who took him into their home.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be here, so they gave me an opportunity,” Jackson said of the Whitfield family. “They gave me a home. They gave me love. Without my family, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Jackson was a member of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), and was a teammate of the Whitfield’s oldest child, Michael. He was the one to ask his parents, Dave and Beth, if Demetrius could live with them. The family, already with five kids of their own, felt it was the right thing to do.

“As a foster kid, going through different foster homes, trust is definitely something that’s difficult. So coming into a home where I was able to just be myself, be comfortable and be loved by a great family just definitely helped me gain trust,” Jackson said. “Ultimately, that allowed me to open up to them and to my teammates and to my coaches and be more open with everybody and just be at ease with my situation.”

In February 2016, his high school Marion, honored the young athlete, and the city of Mishawaka declared it “Demetrius Jackson Day”. The gesture caused Jackson to break down in tears.

“I don’t even know how to put into words how special it was,” Jackson said after receiving the key to the city on that February day. “I don’t cry very often. Just shed tears and happiness with my family and my community to make them proud.”

He continued, “It means so much to just kind of represent the whole [area] and just be able to just be a role model for some of the young kids growing up in the area. It’s been such a blessing to go to such a great university and just have some of the teammates I had and have some of the people in my life I’ve had. Just definitely a great blessing for me.”

Jackson hopes he can inspire others in a similar situation as him.

“It would just give kids in this area the confidence that they can make it too; give kids in the area the confidence to know that if they work hard, that they’ll be able to reach their dreams, as well,” Jackson said. “It would just be really special. I’m just really thankful because I had a great situation. I was placed, I went to a great high school, a great university, so it was really set up for me to just be where I am today, and I’m just really thankful for that.”

And while Demetrius will leave his hometown for the first time, he says he’s not leaving it for good. “This is my home,” Jackson said. “My home is 15 minutes away and Notre Dame is my home; so I’ll always be here.”