Demetrius Jackson just smiled.
The point guard from Marian (Ind.) High School in Mishawaka didn’t flinch, grimace or ignore the topic.
Even though it probably wasn’t the No. 1 subject the McDonald’s All-American point guard wanted to talk about.
But the former Illinois men’s basketball recruiting target who had the Illini in his final two before he chose Notre Dame last September doesn’t shy away from discussing his decision that led him to South Bend instead of Champaign-Urbana.
The underlying theme?
Illinois wouldn’t have factored into the picture without coach John Groce.
Jackson said he talked to former Illinois coach Bruce Weber and former Illinois assistant coach Jay Price once or twice, but it was the hiring of Groce that really piqued Jackson’s interest in Illinois. And Groce’s musical talents played a part.
“He’s just funny and a great all around guy,” Jackson said of Groce. “He’s not just a great coach. I remember on my official visit, we were driving around in the car, and he just busted out singing Usher and stuff like that. It’s hard to explain. He just sends off a good vibe that makes you feel positive. He kind of brightens your day.”
Jackson said the relationships he built with not only Groce, but Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker and Paris Parham in his brief courtship with Illinois made it harder for him to commit elsewhere.
“I was very comfortable with those guys,” Jackson said. “It was a very difficult decision. When you’ve got a great coach who you can have fun with, your players are going to play hard for you. I knew whatever happened with my decision, he’s going to have a successful coaching career at Illinois.”
Jackson — who finished second in Indiana’s Mr. Basketball voting — went on to have a superb senior season at Marian, averaging 28 points, six rebounds and 4.3 assists for an 11-10 Marian team.
Jackson said he received backlash on Twitter for about five months after his decision for choosing Notre Dame instead of Illinois.
“It’s still here and there, but not too much anymore,” he said. “It was just whenever something happens to Notre Dame that’s bad or something that happens to Illinois that’s good.”
Jackson said one of his close friends is a big Illinois fan, which didn’t influence his decision.
“He’s got family in Champaign, and he comes to Chicago a lot,” Jackson said. “He would always be like, ‘Dude, if you go to Illinois, that’d be sick.’ Just stuff like that. He didn’t try to pressure me into a decision. He was just being a great friend and said, ‘Wherever your heart is, just go there.’”