Tory Jackson always expected that he'd become a big part of the Notre Dame basketball team's future. After watching the Irish drop several close games in final minutes in the past few weeks, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound point guard from Saginaw, Mich., is more ready than ever to get to South Bend.
"They can expect me to come in and help change things," Jackson said. "I can be a real clutch player. With my team now, I've had to be clutch at the end of games. Notre Dame has lost a lot of games at the end and I can be the player that can change that."
Jackson, a member of the Rivals150 and ranked as the No. 17 point guard in the country, has plenty of experience leading basketball teams to victory.
As a junior he averaged 29.5 points per game to lead Buena Vista to the regionals and a No. 3 ranking in the state of Michigan. His junior season performance also led to him being named the Class C Player of the Year.
"That meant a lot," he said. "It rarely happens to a point guard and from somebody from Saginaw. There were a lot of tough kids in Class C; one was a candidate for Mr. Basketball. I was really overwhelmed."
Last summer Jackson was invited to participate in USA Basketball's Youth Development Program. That gave him the opportunity to play with some of the country's top players including junior phenom O.J. Mayo and Duke signee Gerald Henderson. That team of US players went head-to-head with all-star teams from other countries.
"It was the best players in the nation playing against other countries like China, New Zealand, Austria and Canada," he said. "It was a real good experience being around kids from other states. It really helped playing with guys like O.J. and Gerald. Playing against the kids from other countries will really help my game because they play more fundamentally sound and that's what I need to do."
Another lesson Jackson learned this year centered on focus. He wanted to earn a McDonald's All-American invite and when that didn't happen, frustration set in. Before Jackson knew it, his game started to suffer.
"At the beginning of the season I was frustrated thinking about McDonald's and whether they'd call or not," he said. "I don't know why I was worried because only 20 kids get picked. Once I let it go and started playing my game things were better. The last seven or eight games I have been averaging 30-32 points per game."
Jackson, a four-star recruit, received offers from Florida, Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC, but he narrowed his list down to just the Wolverines and the Irish. Most had him as a lock to Michigan, but that all changed when he felt that he wasn't a priority in Ann Arbor.
"Michigan was one of my first choices," he said. "But something happened; they recruited someone else and they put me on hold because they thought I wasn't coming. Then they told me I had to wait because they didn't know if he was coming, and he ended up not going there anyway. I felt disrespected so I went to Notre Dame because it was a top school to me. Notre Dame was always one of my top schools because they are in the Big East and the Big East produces the best players."
Head coach Mike Brey had a lot to do with that decision.
"He's one of the coolest coaches," Jackson said. "I can relate to him because he was a point guard."
Jackson will head to South Bend in June for summer school and he'll begin working out with the team. He's excited about the future, but not just because of basketball. With 10 brothers and three sisters, he's had to fight for everything in his house from time in front of the television to seconds at the dinner table. But, growing up with such a large family has been a positive experience.
"It's tough, but it helps a lot because it teaches you how to become more of a young man and having sisters, it teaches me how to treat ladies," he said. "You become tougher because you have to fight for a lot of stuff."
At Notre Dame, he may have to fight for playing time, but Jackson should have dibs on the remote control.