In his first official appearance as a member of the Celtics, Demetrius Jackson poured out his emotions this past week while speaking to area youth as the team unveiled Madison Park Community Center's renovated basketball court.
The rookie spoke briefly of his journey from a foster home to the NBA, and actually suggested that if the group of about 100 kids needed help or advice, to find a way to contact him. It was a generous and sincere gesture and not surprising given Jackson's appreciation for just being here.
Jackson entered the draft following a banner junior season at Notre Dame and was picked 45th overall by the Celtics. Despite dropping in the draft after being tabbed a potential top-20 pick, Jackson was nothing but grateful for the NBA opportunity.
Jackson bounced around foster homes for a good portion of his childhood before finally settling with the Whitfield family in Mishawaka, Ind., where he starred at Marian Catholic High School. The Whitfields became his legal guardians after he developed a close friendship with their son, Michael, an AAU teammate of Jackson's.
"It's a long story but just the journey made me and strengthened me into who I am today," Jackson said. "I'm just really thankful for the difficulties I've had in my life because it's shaped me into who I am today. Obviously there's a lot of room for improvement as a person, but it really set me on the right track through all of my experiences.
"I ended up in a great spot [with the Whitfields]. And that seems to be the thing because I also landed in the great spot [with the Celtics]."
Jackson led the Irish in scoring as a junior and fueled Notre Dame's run to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight, including a 26-point effort in the loss to North Carolina. It was that game that catapulted Jackson into a major NBA prospect.
"Just having back-to-back years with tournament success was really special," Jackson said. "The relationships you develop in college, your teammates are like your best friends. I loved playing with those guys. We had a lot of fun in practice games, to be able to keep that together, to be able to keep competing and to keep playing in big, sold-out arenas — to me, as a passionate player, I fed off the energy. It was just really special, I was glad I was able to be a part of it."
His basketball ascension is amazing considering his unstable early childhood. His biological parents are both living, but an undisclosed situation with his mother forced Jackson into foster care.
He never let go of basketball as a passion.
"For me basketball was my outlet," he said. "Everybody has a different outlet. Some people like to write, some people like to paint. The thing that you do when you're down, you can really go back to that because it's always there for you. Through any emotion, I would just go outside, shoot hoops, do different moves that I'd seen guys do on TV, on YouTube. Through all my difficulties, I would resort to the court and it paid off well."
In fifth grade, Jackson began playing basketball regularly and he said he was enamored by Miami's Dwyane Wade helping the Heat to their first NBA title. The 6-foot-1-inch Jackson patterned some of his moves after Wade, and like Wade, is vigorous attacking the basket, despite his size.
"When I started shooting my jump shot, and at that time I didn't really elevate on my shot, and seeing Dwyane Wade do that, I would always go practice and really started to jump and shoot the ball," he said. "And even today, on my jump shot, I really elevate on it. And my first pair of basketball shoes, Dwyane Wade Converse. He was a big reason why I continued to keep working."
A stable family environment was critical to Jackson's on-court success. He had been close friends with Michael Whitfield, who finally asked his parents if Demetrius could move in to their home permanently. After graduating from middle school, Jackson had found a real home.
"I just spent a lot of time there, spending the night, carpooling to tournaments, so I was almost part of the family because I was officially part of it," he said. "You could be around them one time and really feel how great of people they really are. I'm really thankful to have such great people in my life."
Free fall in draft may help Murray
Dejounte Murray had fully expected to return to the University of Washington for his sophomore season. That was until he flourished as a freshman, averaging 15.1 points per game for the Huskies. Along with teammate Marquese Chriss, he entered the draft to some surprise.
Chriss was the eighth overall pick by the Sacramento Kings and was traded to Phoenix. Chriss went through more conventional pre-draft channels, working out for teams in the lottery while his stock rose steadily.
Murray, on the other hand, signed with Klutch Sports Group and worked out for a limited amount of teams with the express purpose of landing in a spot where he could develop. Murray, a 6-5 swingman, had lottery potential but fell to San Antonio with the 29th pick.
The Spurs are known for developing young players. They made a similar move two years ago by taking UCLA's Kyle Anderson, a sophomore who slipped in the draft and who has become an emerging rotation player. It may take time for Murray to learn the Spurs' system, but there won't be pressure to produce immediately.
"That's going to help my game a lot," said Murray, who played at talent-rich Rainier Beach High in Seattle. "Those are all vets that you just named. Great coach, probably one of the greatest coaches that ever coached, and I'm just excited to go learn from all the vets, pick their brains about the game, on the court, off the court, and just get to work."
Murray was one of the 16 prospects invited to the green room on draft night. He, along with one-and-dones Deyonta Davis and Skal Labissiere, began slipping as the draft progressed. Labissiere went 28th to Phoenix but was traded to the Kings, while Davis slipped to 31st with the Celtics, who traded him to Memphis.
"I had to sit a long time, but I didn't pout," Murray said of the long draft night. "I didn't try to show nothing negative, tried to stay positive, and I feel like I'm going to the best organization in the NBA. Like you said, a team that contends for a championship every year. I'm just blessed to be in a position and blessed to be a part of their organization."
The question in coming years for potential one-and-dones such as Murray, Labissiere, and Davis is whether it will be worth entering the draft and risk a major slip. It has been suggested that players with college eligibility remaining and who go undrafted should be able to return to school.
Despite projections and scouting reports, entering the draft after a freshman season is a risk. Getting to a team that will allow a prospect to develop — instead of throwing him into the fray immediately — may be the best opportunity for success long term.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich once said not every young player can thrive in his system. He'll allow a limited time for mistakes and setbacks before making a final decision. Players such as DeJuan Blair, James Anderson, and Marcus Williams couldn't last long term in San Antonio.
Murray could develop into a starter but he is still very raw. He shot 41.6 percent from the field and 28.8 percent from the 3-point line in college. He will definitely need to work on his shooting, but Murray's athleticism and fearlessness is what attracted teams.
Slipping in the draft may eventually be the best outcome for the 19-year-old. He is in a situation in which the team does not need him to produce immediately. He can soak in the knowledge from established veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and perhaps Tim Duncan, if he returns for a 20th season.
"I feel like it's going to help me out, help my game out," Murray said. "I'm a dude that likes to do everything. I like to score the ball, working on my jump shot. I can get to the basket. I like that I can make my teammates better. I can defend. I just do everything, and learning from them is just a bonus.
"I never get comfortable. I could be a great shooter. I never stop shooting, like Steph Curry. He's a great shooter. I'm pretty sure he still works on it every day, countless hours. I feel like I've got to work on everything as far as getting bigger, getting stronger, and in basketball, just working on everything."
K.C. Jones’s son beams with pride
The intensity of the NBA Finals overshadowed the honoring of coaches Jerry Sloan and K.C. Jones. They were co-recipients of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award in a ceremony prior to Game 3 in Cleveland. Sloan, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease and a form of dementia, was sharp and engaging at the event.
Jones, who won two championships as head coach in Boston, did not attend because health issues prevented him from traveling. His son attended the event and said his father was grateful for the honor.
"We're just absolutely thrilled and we're proud," Kip Jones told the Globe. "Everyone giving him these accolades, it's been a terrific feeling. I can't wait to go back and tell him how much people really appreciate him."
Jones, 84, was enshrined into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a player in 1989, but his coaching accomplishments have been somewhat overlooked because of the talent he coached. Before leading the Celtics to two NBA titles, Jones coached the Washington Bullets to the NBA Finals in 1975. In five seasons with the Celtics, Jones won 75.1 percent of his games and 63 percent of his postseason games.
He was fired after the Celtics lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals in 1988, despite winning 57 games that season. No coach after Jones took the Celtics to the NBA Finals until Doc Rivers in 2008. Jones has been affected by health issues in recent years.
"The memory is affected a little bit," Kip Jones said. "But the great thing is that he's still in good spirits regardless and he is in very good health. He's just not able to make those trips anymore, whether he's singing or playing golf, so unfortunately he could not make it and make the other events that he would like to do normally."
Kip has vivid memories of those Celtics' teams of the 1980s, when the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish ruled the Eastern Conference. The Celtics reached four consecutive NBA Finals from 1984-87.
"It was fun for me because I was going to Bentley College and I got to appreciate what he was doing," Kip said. "When he was playing, I was too young to understand it. It was great to see that and be part of that and see some of that success."
Four members of the 1986 title team — Bird, McHale, Danny Ainge, and Rick Carlisle — went on to become NBA head coaches. Bird and Ainge became general managers.
"That says a lot about a leader," Kip Jones said of his father. "If you are able to have other folks take on leadership roles after you, that's a great testament. You feel nostalgic about [his career]. When I was working in Springfield and when they see my name they'd say, 'Oh, you're related?' and they start rambling off all their childhood memories and all the Celtic teammates and that's a great thing because it was a culture.
"It was all about the team and all about the Celtics and what the Celtics did for that individual. That's always great to hear."
The banishment of O.J. Mayo from the NBA for violating the league's anti-drug policy could be the end of what has been a disappointing career. After averaging 18.5 and 17.5 points per game, respectively, in his first two seasons with the Grizzlies, his career took a major downturn. The Grizzlies figured Mayo couldn't play with Mike Conley and he left as a free agent, playing one year for the Mavericks and then signing a three-year, $24 million deal with the Bucks. Mayo was a free agent and would have garnered a new contract before the suspension. Mayo had his share of issues in Milwaukee. He was benched for being overweight and turned into an afterthought, averaging 7.8 points in 41 games last season. Mayo was considered the best player in the nation when he signed with Southern Cal, and was the third overall pick in the 2008 draft by Minnesota before being traded on draft night for Kevin Love. Mayo, who can apply for reinstatement in two years, is the first player since Chris Andersen in 2006 to be banned because of drugs. The NBA does not ban players for marijuana use, so it had to be on its "drug of abuse" list, which essentially includes all hard drugs and stimulants. Mayo had already been in the league's anti-drug program for a previous violation . . . The Celtics handed out their uniform numbers for rookies prior to the start of summer league and the most notable number distributed was to third overall pick Jaylen Brown, who will take Rajon Rondo's old No. 9. The Celtics had not given out the numbers of any of the departed Big Four — Rondo, Ray Allen (20), Kevin Garnett (5), and Paul Pierce (34) — before this past week. Pierce and Garnett's numbers are certain to be retired. Allen's 20 will be interesting because he did not leave the organization on good terms, signing with the rival Miami Heat for half the money after the 2011-12 season. The 10th anniversary of that 2008 title team is coming up in two years . . . The release of summer league rosters always brings the shocking birthdates for the one-and-done players, who make all of us feel old. Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram was born on Sept. 2, 1997, still 18 years old. The No. 1 song in the first week of Sept. 1997 was the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Mo Money, Mo Problems."
The 76ers selected Australian Ben Simmons No. 1 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, the 11th time a player born outside the United States was taken with the top pick. He joins some pretty talented company:
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.