CHICAGO -- Wearing his familiar blue headphones and the standard-issue black and red and gold warm-up suit, Marian High School senior Demetrius Jackson walked quietly through a United Center back corridor early Wednesday evening as one of the elite of the elite.
After a whirlwind five days in a city with a much faster pace than Jackson is used to, it was time for him and 24 other schoolboy stars to go to work in the 36th-annual McDonald's High School All-American basketball game.
Aaron Gordon (Arizona) scored 24 points to lead the West to a 110-99 victory in front of 15,811.
Jackson finished with five points. He also had a team-high four assists. All five of his field goal attempts were in the paint. He often used the word "surreal" to describe an experience few ever thought possible when he chose basketball over football as a high school freshman. While many of his Marian classmates were away on spring break, there Jackson was on the same floor that Michael Jordan once called home and Derrick Rose now does. He was the first McDonald's All-American from Northern Indiana since Elkhart native Shawn Kemp earned the honor in 1988.
A staple in the starting lineup during his prep career, Jackson opened the game on the bench for the East squad. He checked in with 11:59 remaining in the first half and the East already down 20-13. He drove the lane 13 seconds later then had his first shot draw only air after it was partially blocked. His second shot ended in a similar scenario -- get to the rim and get turned away.
Jackson finally settled down with an assist to Julius Randle (Kentucky) on a fast break with 9:12 remaining. He missed two shots and had two assists in his first five-minute stint. Jackson then returned and wowed the crowd -- who responded with an "Oooooooooh!" when he did a 360 dribble/spin move past a defender at halfcourt during a fast break.
The game consisted of two 20-minute halves instead of the high school standard of four eight-minute periods. It tipped at 9:37 p.m. South Bend time, usually the time a usual high school game back home in Indiana is ending.
Jackson was recognized at halftime when he was honored with the annual Sportsmanship Award. The East team trailed 56-44 at the break and had more turnovers (9) than assists (8).
Jackson will be the sixth McDonald's All-American and third from Indiana to play for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. He'll be the first since Luke Zeller in 2005. The first to do it in 2001 was Indianapolis native Chris Thomas, fourth in Irish history with 2,195 points.
Thomas first scouted Jackson's game last summer when he accompanied Brey and the Irish coaching staff to an AAU tournament in Indianapolis. They spent the afternoon tracking Jackson, who was months away from a trying college decision-making process that saw him choose Notre Dame over Illinois in late September.
In Jackson, Thomas saw a lot of himself when he was a prep senior and considered by many as the can't-miss kid.
"When I met D, he was a real soft-spoken, humble kid," Thomas said. "But when he's on the court, he plays with a different gear. He was just bigger, stronger and faster than everybody. That's what top-level players carry. They can switch it into gear any time and be a leader in all aspects."
Participating in all that comes with the McDonald's game, Jackson had been in Chicago since checking into the game's downtown hotel headquarters on Saturday afternoon. It marked only the second time that Jackson had been away from his Mishawaka home for an extended period for basketball outside of his AAU team travels.
Jackson left home for the first time last spring to participate in the NBA Top 100 Elite Camp in Virginia.
"You worry that he hasn't been away from home too often, but you can't tell," said East coach Freddy Johnson from Greensboro (N.C.) Day School. "He's very outgoing with the guys."
Despite being the only Indiana native selected a McDonald's All-American, Jackson learned earlier Wednesday that he was not voted the best player in the Hoosier State. Jackson finished second in Mr. Basketball voting to Hamilton Southeastern's Zak Irvin, who will play next season at Michigan.
Irvin averaged 24.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.0 blocks for a team that finished 17-4 his senior season. Jackson, whose Marian team finished 11-10, averaged 25.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 steals.
Irvin received 101 votes from coaches and media around the state. Jackson received 46.
Irvin played three seasons on varsity. Jackson played four and was a three-time most valuable player of the Northern Indiana Conference.