Pair of Dakota products finding success at Detroit Mercy

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published February 22, 2018

  University of Detroit Mercy freshman point guard Jermaine Jackson Jr. dribbles up the floor during a contest earlier this year. After starring at Macomb Dakota, Jackson is averaging 11.5 points per game as a starter for the Titans.

University of Detroit Mercy freshman point guard Jermaine Jackson Jr. dribbles up the floor during a contest earlier this year. After starring at Macomb Dakota, Jackson is averaging 11.5 points per game as a starter for the Titans.

Photo provided by Detroit Mercy athletics

 Detroit Mercy freshman forward Jack Ballantyne drives up the court during a game earlier this season. The former Warren De La Salle and Dakota standout has worked his way into the rotation.

Detroit Mercy freshman forward Jack Ballantyne drives up the court during a game earlier this season. The former Warren De La Salle and Dakota standout has worked his way into the rotation.

Photo provided by Detroit Mercy athletics

DETROIT — Once again, Jermaine Jackson Jr. and Jack Ballantyne are roommates.

Continuing a trend that started when they were 8 years old, the pair bunk together at the University of Detroit Mercy. A decade after becoming close friends as Amateur Athletic Union teammates, the talented duo are sharing their basketball journey in college.

“It’s awesome and really refreshing, especially in our freshman year when you really don’t know anyone at a new school,” Ballantyne said before a practice at Calihan Hall Feb. 13. “You don’t know what to expect in your first year, but having someone here with me who’s been my best friend for a long time really helps. It makes everything much easier on and off the court.”

Last year saw the two lead Macomb Dakota to a 20-4 overall record, winning the Macomb Area Conference Red Division with a 10-0 league mark, and also capturing a district title in postseason play.

“It’s great to be here with Jack,” Jackson said. “He’s been my roommate since elementary school. We trust each other with everything and both push ourselves to be the best we can be.”

Despite his youth, Jackson starts at point guard for the Titans, averaging 11.5 points per game. He was named the Horizon League’s Freshman of the Week Nov. 20.

“(Jackson) has always been good at handling pressure,” Ballantyne said. “That’s one thing I really admire about him. No matter if it’s an AAU game in a middle school gym or playing Oakland (University) in prime time, he always has the same confidence and intensity with his skills. Watching him develop more and learning how to execute makes me want to follow his lead and jump on that same wagon so I can be successful too.”

Jackson is seeing plenty of opportunity, sitting second on the Mercy roster with 30.6 minutes per game.

“I want more from myself. I’m probably the hardest person on my game, but I want to be the best I can be,” Jackson said. “I think I’m doing well, but I hope to do a lot better. I control what I can control and just work hard every day.”

Ballantyne has worked his way into the rotation, averaging 17.3 minutes per contest in league play.

“(Ballantyne) is working hard, doing whatever it takes to get out there,” Jackson praised. “He’s showing why he’s a great player both mentally and physically, and doing whatever it takes to be a great teammate.”

Ballantyne said he’s done a good job with the minutes he’s seen so far.

“Honestly, it’s been a good but challenging experience. The physicality and speed are much different,” he said. “I went from being able to do whatever I wanted in high school to having to commit myself to the weight room to match up with the other big men. The speed and pace is much faster, but I’m getting used to it.”

Both credited their time as Cougars as a crucial time to develop into Titans.

“Playing with (Jackson), Thomas (Kithier) and a really talented team helped me to learn to play at a high level,” said Ballantyne, who also played at Warren De La Salle before transferring to Dakota. “I learned to have confidence in myself and my game. I was able to add some different skills.”

Jackson said he learned valuable leadership skills as a captain for the Cougars. Before playing for Dakota, he suited up for Mount Clemens High.

“Being the leader on a younger team helped me to become a better person, taking my leadership to a different level,” Jackson said. “Everyone is good in college. In high school, you might see some soccer or lacrosse player out there starting on varsity. But everyone out here is supposed to be playing college basketball. Playing at a big program like Dakota and my time in AAU helped prepare me for that.”

Both players made it out to Dakota’s buzzer-beater victory over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley earlier this season and have kept close tabs on their alma mater.

“I love Coach (Paul) Tocco and all those guys, and it’s great to see how they’re doing,” Ballantyne said. “I know a lot of people didn’t expect them to have the kind of success they’re having, but it says a lot about the players and coaches there.”

“I call Coach Tocco after every game to see how everyone is doing,” Jackson added. “Those are some of my best friends over there. It’s great to see them winning the MAC Red. Going back to my first game at Dakota and not playing was weird, but it was great to see them win.”

Tocco said he takes great pride in seeing his two former stars compete at the next level.

“Every time they’re on TV I watch, and I’ve been to five or six home games,” Tocco said. “I couldn’t be prouder of those two. It’s good to see Jack working his way into the rotation, and obviously Jermaine is showing why he was recruited by some major schools across the country. They still have a long way to go and get better, which I’m sure they will do. What they did for our program was put it at another level, and we will continue to support them at the college level and throughout their lives.”

Tocco plans to be amongst the many friends and family members who will watch Jackson and Ballantyne compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Titans, who were 8-21 overall and 4-12 in the Horizon League at press time, will compete in the Horizon League’s “Motor City Madness” March 2-6 at Little Caesars Arena.

“Even though we haven’t had the best season record-wise, I think this team is poised and talented to go on a run,” Ballantyne remarked. “Our record doesn’t really reflect what team we are. I’m going to do whatever I can to help us. Honestly, we believe we can get hot and catch fire, hopefully making it to the tournament or NIT.”

Jackson agreed, looking forward to the opportunity to play in the brand-new arena minutes away from Detroit Mercy’s campus.

“Plenty of family and friends will be there, so it will be fun playing hard for them,” Jackson said. “Little Caesars Arena is a great gym. We’re ready to give it our all.”