By David McCoy, WSBT Sports
4:02 PM EST, February 25, 2011
Sometimes in life, things happen to you that you don't understand. That frankly, you can’t understand, and can't do anything about. That's what happened to Demetrius Jackson.
This is a story of kindness, of sadness and hope. And how basketball brought a family together.
With just five more points, Demetrius will set Marian High School's single-season scoring record, as a sophomore. David and Beth Whitfield will be there when it happens.
"Dave's always been willing to help, and Beth, they're always willing to help in any situation they can,” Marian coach Robb Berger said. “I think they need to be applauded for what they can and are doing for a young man."
To know Demetrius Jackson now, you need to know where he was four years ago, when at the age of 12, he was placed in foster care.
"It was kind of like, you don't really have a choice,” Demetrius said. “And so it was just kind of unexpected."
He would rather not talk about the circumstances that landed him in foster care. But suffice it to say, it hurt.
"I was scared,” Demetrius said. “I was crying, and it's just like, you know, it wasn't comfortable knowing I couldn't see my mother anymore."
His trials were just beginning. Demetrius was moved from a foster home in South Bend to a different one in Elkhart. Neither was a happy place.
"It's hard to balance out all your emotions,” he said. “Especially when you're unhappy."
He found comfort and peace in one place: Basketball.
"I'll go shoot hoops or whatever when I'm upset,” Demetrius said. “And it always seemed to calm me down."
In seventh grade, Demetrius met Michael Whitfield, when the two were placed on the same AAU basketball team. They quickly became very close.
"When I'd get in trouble or I was crying, upset, and I'd always call Michael," Demetrius said.
"I kind of thought of him more as like a family member than a friend,” Michael said. “Like, I would do more for him than I would for any other of my friends."
"He always had time to talk to me,” Demetrius said. “I always just need someone to share my feelings with. I never really had that until I met Michael."
And during those conversations, Michael was moved to action.
"Michael actually came to us,” said Beth Whitfield, Michael’s mother, “and said, ‘what do you think about Demetrius coming to live with us?'"
David and Beth Whitfield have been married for 20 years, and have five children of their own. But when they thought about Demetrius, they knew what they had to do.
"Having a lot of kids of our own, realizing that they are given the opportunities that they are, it meant a lot to us to be able to give Demetrius opportunities that he wasn't going to be able to have if he wouldn't come live with us," Beth said.
In 2009, Demetrius moved in.
“I was like, finally, I can be happy, you know? I was never really happy before," Demetrius said. "I really love Dave. Like, he's a funny guy. And Beth's like really understanding. And you can talk to them. Like, they're people you can talk to."
The four boys all share a room above the garage. The Whitfield house may be a little worse for the wear and tear…
"We have a nerf rim (on the back of the bedroom door),” Demetrius said. “You can see the damage that's been done, because we go hard on this rim."
…But Demetrius has been as big a blessing to the Whitfields as they have been to him.
"I even remember one time I was yelling at one of the kids, and I thought it was Michael. And it turned out to be Demetrius,” David said. “So he fit in right away.”
"I'm in a happy home now, so I'm a happy kid, and I don't really see the point of being sad all the time,” Demetrius said. “I know it's difficult still and I don't really get to see my family as much, but at the same time, you've got to look at the bright side of things."
Demetrius hasn't forgotten his other brothers, and they haven't forgotten about him either. They attend most of his games. And his mother comes to many of them too.
“I feel like I play better when they're there,” Demetrius said. “Because I feel like I'm doing it for them, in a way. That's why I want to be successful for college and everything. So I can look back and be like, I did this for my family."
Demetrius will be the first in his family to attend college. And the way he's playing, he'll have his pick of some good ones. Xavier has already offered a scholarship. Notre Dame, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and LSU are recruiting him too. And the list keeps growing.
Does he feel like his goals are more attainable now?
"Yeah,” Demetrius said, “it gives me a better opportunity because it put me in a good situation."
“He dreams of going on to college and playing in the NBA,” Beth said. “And if anything that we do can be a little part of helping him to that, we'd want that for any of our kids."
Because that's exactly who he is.
"My entire extended family and everyone, they think of him as like, my family,” Michael said. “They don't think of him as my friend. They think of him as my brother."
"I treat him just like I do my other kids,” David said. “And so does Beth."
Which leads us back to the beginning... and to one very important question. What if Demetrius had never played basketball? He would never have been on that AAU team. Might have never befriended Michael. And might have never met David and Beth. If not for basketball, their lives might never have intersected. If not for basketball, where - and who - would Demetrius be now?
"I probably would have went crazy and just, I don't know, just into somewhere bad and been in trouble," Demetrius said. "And so without Michael and basketball, life would be so much different. And I really appreciate it.
"I always say like, ‘what if?’ Like what if I never would have met Michael? I'd probably be unhappy right now. But thankfully, God had a plan for me. He brought Michael to me, he brought us together.
Basketball gave Demetrius a family. And a family gave Demetrius what basketball never could: Love.
The Whitfields only have another two years with Demetrius before he heads off to college, so they're relishing the time they do have together.
Beth says that when Demetrius comes home from college, she hopes he'll come home to their house. And, of course, bring his laundry.
She said she always wants Demetrius to feel like their home, is his home.
Copyright © 2013, WSBT-TV