Whenever Jaeden Zackery needs to be inspired, all he has to do is think back to a video on his phone that shows the top 15 recruits in Wisconsin in 2019.
The other 14 players drew Division 1 interest, but Zackery, a 6-foot-2-inch guard from Westosha Central, couldn’t say the same.
“That tests you. It puts you down,” Zackery said. “You’ll be like, ‘Am I really good at basketball? Do I just settle?’ ”
His parents reminded him he should never settle. Three years later, he’s glad he listened.
Zackery showed promise at the prep school Scotland Campus in Pennsylvania, blossomed into an All-American at the JUCO school Chipola College in Florida, and eventually found a home at Boston College.
Last season, he started all 33 games as a freshman and averaged 10.4 points, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 steals while shooting 47.7 percent from 3-point range. This year, he’s a sophomore leader putting up 11.6 points a night on a 5-2 team hoping to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2009.
“He’s coming from a unique position, coming from a JUCO and bursting onto the scene right away,” BC freshman Prince Aligbe said. “He knows what it can feel like, day in and day out, the adjustment.”
Zackery focused on both basketball and baseball growing up, but once he got to high school, he started to prioritize basketball. He emerged as an all-state point guard and wondered why colleges didn’t believe in his future as much as he did.
He decided to take the prep route, where he met current teammate DeMarr Langford Jr. at a national tournament. Zackery impressed on a grand stage, but COVID hit, which curbed the momentum he was finally starting to build and prevented him from visiting any campuses.
Zackery “lost everything,” he said, and it felt like déjà vu as he mulled over his limited options.
“That whole summer, I wasn’t talking to any schools,” he said. “I wasn’t talking to anybody. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was just kind of at a standstill. I really had nothing. It was just like high school. It was another test.”
Junior college seemed like the best opportunity, so Zackery took another leap and moved to Florida. He credits Chipola coach Donnie Tyndall for raising his confidence and allowing him to unlock his potential. Zackery helped Chipola win a conference and state title and reach the 2021 National Junior College Athletic Association semifinals.
Division 1 schools finally started to take notice, including Boston College. When Zackery spoke with Eagles coach Earl Grant on Zoom, he told his parents that was all he needed. He was done with the recruiting process and decided to commit that same day.
Zackery expected to play 8-10 minutes a game off the bench as a freshman and was stunned when he started every game and averaged 35 minutes a night.
Nearly every morning, he looked in the mirror and reminded himself he belonged. As he saw results manifest, he started to truly believe it.
Grant referred to him as “a rock” for the Eagles. It’s a perfect fit between a gritty player, coach, and program that all have something to prove. Zackery views Grant as a father figure and someone he leans on, and it’s clear the admiration is mutual.
“He’s a physical, everyday worker,” Grant said. “He shows up every day and puts on his coal miner suit and gets to digging. It’s the same every day. It doesn’t change.”
Zackery, a shifty and pesky combo guard with a reliable stroke, prides himself on making opposing guards miserable. He watches Jalen Brunson and Fred VanVleet highlights regularly and has learned how to use his lack of height to his advantage.
Zackery has taken a circuitous route, but he’s found stability at BC.
“It’s crazy to think, because in high school I never would have thought I’d be here,” Zackery said. “This is the last place I would have ever thought I’d be. Now that I’m here, it’s a dream come true.”
UMass Lowell is off to a 6-1 start, its best record through seven games since transitioning to Division 1 in 2013 . . . Three of Northeastern’s last four games have been decided by one possession. The young Huskies, who have a promising freshman class, found a way to beat Manhattan in overtime, but they’re 1-2 in those games and 1-5 overall. “I think the ceiling’s very high,” coach Bill Coen said. “If they stick with it, and keep working at it, they’re all going to be very good players.”
Trevor Hass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.