D’Mari Jackson is excited about graduation, which is coming up sooner than expected. “It's gonna happen,” he laughs. However, even after his walk across the stage and the main doors close behind him, he won’t be out in the cold without a plan. “This time next year I hope to be in college somewhere playing basketball,” he says. “I know for sure I'm going to college. I’m not sure which college yet.”
We remind him that now might be a good time to start thinking about that. He laughs again, “I'm going to decide here pretty soon.” There's a reason for his hesitance. “I have options,” he says, “and when you have options, there’s a lot to choose from. Right now, he’s fielding offers from UW-Oshkosh at Fond du Lac, Rend Lake, Shawnee and will hear back from SIU Carbondale “as we speak.”
The institution that lucks out to have him on its team will be pleasantly surprised. D’Mari is a real philosopher inside the game of basketball, and he recognizes the importance of different playing styles for that team to function as one offensive/defensive machine. For instance, he describes himself as owning a “pass first, team-oriented” style but admires fellow teammate Roderick Gatewood for his different approach. “I really [admire] his aggressiveness on the court. He has a scoring mindset and I don't really have that so I admire what he has,” he says.
Understanding the individual personalities and playing styles of the team makes all the difference to D’Mari when drawing the distinction between a successful team and one that’s dysfunctional: “Your team turns into a brotherhood, and that’s very important to me.” When he says he's “team-oriented,” he's not using a buzzword. He says this: “Being part of a team is a responsibility. Everyone’s united together, everyone pulls their weight. When we all do it together, we can accomplish so much.” The responsibility that all members participate in, he explains, is necessary to achieve goals more prominent than any one person. “People by themselves try to do a lot,” he says, “but you can’t do it as much as you could with a team.”
D’mari's become educated on team ethics and life itself because he’s a bit of a traveled man. In between living in Wisconsin for part of his life before returning to Mounds, he has, in his words, “moved around a lot.” Experiencing other places and meeting new people has helped him learn how to become a better teammate and be true to his authentic self. If he could offer guidance to his younger self, D’mari says, “I’d tell him to keep his head back, keep making friends, just keep being yourself and being a good guy.” For a time, he says he struggled with being himself. “I used to move around so much, I used to try to get with the bigger crowds. When you be yourself, the right type of people gravitate towards you.”
He has more hard work ahead, but he’s ready for it. “Basketball hasn’t been really going how I’ve planned it, but then again, what really goes to plan?” He says, “I just have to work hard, work my butt off, and then everything will fall into place. I’m still working on that. I’m trying to be strong.” Hearing these encouraging words from a student his age is remarkable as he says, by his own admission, that he wants to “communicate with people and help in any way he can,” We hope he knows he’s already doing just that. D’mari's telling us to keep at it, don’t give up, and wait for everything to fall into place. We can all work on that even if we're not on the court. We can all try to be strong.