College basketball: Former Central star Jaeden Zackery thriving on Division I level at Boston College | College

When former Central boys basketball star Jaeden Zackery was told he couldn’t play college basketball at the NCAA Division I level, he didn’t pout and give up.

Zackery surely believed the scouts were wrong then, but college coaches aren’t much interested in hearing letters from the complaint department when it comes to prospective recruits.

So instead of playing the victim, Zackery went out and did really the only thing he could do: he bet on himself. He had to prove he could play basketball at the Division I level, and, boy, has he been proven right.

A true freshman by class only, Zackery’s unconventional path to major college basketball has been both his and the Boston College men’s basketball program’s gain. Almost three years out of high school already — he graduated from Central in 2019 — Zackery is listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and has started at guard in all 14 of the Eagles’ games this season.

Zackery had a great high school career, leading Central to the first WIAA Division-2 State Tournament berth in program history during the 2017-18 season as a junior. He was named Associated Press All-State honorable mention and Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division-2 first-team All-State in both his junior and senior seasons, as well as the Southern Lakes Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 2018-19.

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With that resume, Zackery had plenty of offers to play college basketball at the Division II or Division III level. But he had his heart set on being a Division I player, even though he wasn’t getting the Division I scholarship offers he was looking for out of high school.

Unconventional route

So Zackery spent the 2019-20 season playing prep-school ball at Scotland (Pa.) Prep and the 2020-21 season playing at Chipola (Fla.) College, a Division I junior college program.

Zackery started all 28 games for the Indians at point guard last season and led them to a 23-5 overall record en route to capturing the Panhandle Conference and FCSAA State Tournament titles. He was named an NJCAA third-team All-American.

Those two post-high schools years were enough for Zackery to get his NCAA Division I offer from Boston College, a member of the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference, and he’s now thriving with the Eagles.

Quite simply, betting on himself paid off.

“Those two extra years, with the junior college and the prep school, gave him a lot of experience,” Zackery’s high school coach at Central, James Hyllberg, said in a recent interview. “He’s a freshman, but he has a two-year advantage on other guys.

“He’s stronger, he’s faster, his confidence is up.”

Zackery, who hails from Salem Lakes, was in town last month during his Christmas break and stopped by the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic to watch Central play one night. He said the two post-high school years were obviously beneficial.

“I feel like those extra two years at prep and juco really got me prepared for this, because I’ve been through a lot,” Zackery said. “It’s a different road than everybody, so kind of doing this has got me mentally ready to compete at the D-I level.”

Hyllberg credited Zackery’s hard work for getting him through an unorthodox path to Division I basketball. He also cited the strong influence of Zackery’s parents, Marcus, an assistant under Hyllberg at Central and a long-time youth basketball coach, and Andrea, the principal at Riverview Grade School in Silver Lake.

“I’m telling you right now, it’s all cause of his hard work,” Hyllberg said. “His parents pushed him, and he pushed himself, and he’s never given up. He wasn’t highly-recruited out of his high school, like a lot of his friends and people he played with. But he didn’t hang his head.”

Filling the stat sheet

Including Wednesday’s 81-76 ACC loss to Georgia Tech at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in which Boston College dropped to 6-8 overall and 1-3 in conference play, Zackery ranks third on the Eagles with 10.7 points per game, second in assists with 38 and first in steals with 21, which ranks in the top 25 in the conference. He’s also second in the team in field-goal percentage (48.6) and first in 3-point field-goal percentage (52.6), though he doesn’t have enough attempts beyond the arc to qualify among the ACC leaders in that category.

Additionally, Zackery’s 33.4 minutes per game rank second on Boston College, which next plays at Clemson on Saturday night.

Like he did during his high school days at Central, Zackery has played well for the Eagles on both ends. Perhaps his best game came against the University of Albany in a non-conference home loss on Dec. 13, when Zackery racked up a career-high 15 points to go with four rebounds, four assists, a block and two steals.

He also posted great all-around statistical lines in non-conference home wins against Holy Cross on Nov. 12 (13 points, six rebounds, two steals) and against Fairfield on Nov. 14 (13 points, six rebounds, three steals) and in a non-conference road loss to St. Louis University on Dec. 11 (12 points, four rebounds, five assists, three steals).

Then, against high-profile ACC opponent North Carolina on Jan. 2 at the Conte Forum, Zackery totaled 13 points, five boards, an assist and a steal in the Eagles’ 91-65 loss to the Tar Heels, one of college basketball’s blue-bloods.

Playing with the best

Kenosha County, quite frankly, doesn’t have a long history of producing NCAA Division I men’s basketball players. There have been a handful over the last 30 years to play in smaller Division I conferences, but not since former St. Joseph great Nick Van Exel — probably the best player to ever come out of Kenosha — starred at the University of Cincinnati from 1991-93 has a county player competed at as high of a level as Zackery is in the ACC.

Often regarded as the best basketball conference in the country, the ACC gives Zackery the type of national exposure and high-level competition he could only dream of facing during his days in the Southern Lakes Conference. Playing against the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and Syracuse pits Zackery against players who were way more highly-recruited than he was coming out of high school.

But he’s proven he’s every bit as good as they are.

In the first ACC game of his college career, a 73-57 win over Notre Dame at the Conte Forum on Dec. 3, Zackery’s offensive numbers weren’t spectacular, as he finished with two points on 1-of-2 shooting to go with two rebounds and one assist, but he started and played 30 minutes in a victory.

“It was definitely a great experience, kind of packed, kind of crowded, playing against a bunch of great talent,” Zackery said of his first ACC experience. “It was a good experience for a first game.”

As for his former high school team, Zackery said last month he liked what he saw from Central, which was ranked No. 7 in Division-2 in both the latest state coaches poll and the season’s first Associated Press state poll. The Falcons have their sights set on a fourth straight SLC title and perhaps another State Tournament run.

“They’ve got a lot of great talent,” Zackery said. “I love coming watching them play, because I still talk to some of them a little bit. They can do a lot of great things this year, obviously.”

Central senior wing Jack Rose seems likely to follow Zackery into Division I college basketball, though with probably a more conventional route. But whatever route a player goes, Zackery’s story proves that doors are never closed if you’re willing to look for the right ones to open and keep working hard.

“It’s a valuable lesson for a lot of high school kids,” Hyllberg said. “You work hard, believe in yourself, don’t get a bad attitude and play the victim, and you can see his hard work and perseverance paid off.”

Indian Trail’s Manasseh Stackhouse and Central’s Jack Rose trade baskets during the Falcons’ 68-40 victory Dec. 28 in the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.


Mike Johnson


IN PHOTOS: Day 4 of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage

HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Arianna Jenkins comes down with a rebound against Janesville Parker on Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Jayden Hill goes up for a shot against Janesville Parker on Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Ava Rizzitano, right, reaches for the ball against Janesville Parker on Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Sarah Ryan shoots against Janesville Parker on Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Sarah Ryan, center, passes around a Janesville Parker defender Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Sarah Ryan fights for control of the ball with a Janesville Parker player Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Deja’ Rivers, center, shoots between Janesville Parker defenders Ava Ahrens-Egger, left, and Emma Lippens, right, on Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Maricela Ortega moves the ball against Janesville Parker on Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Arianna Jenkins, center, shoots under pressure against Janesville Parker on Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



HOLIDAY CLASSIC – STJ VS PARKER

HOLIDAY CLASSIC - STJ VS PARKER

St. Joseph’s Elizabeth Fani, left, shoots a jumper against Janesville Parker on Thursday afternoon during a non-conference girls basketball game on the final day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford’s Jake Harvey, second from right, dives for the ball as Bradford’s Keviyon Price, left, trails the play during a non-conference boys basketball game against Greenfield on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Red Devils won, 63-60.



Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford’s Keviyon Price soars in for a layup during a non-conference boys basketball game against Greenfield on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Red Devils won, 63-60. Price finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds and was named the Player of the Game.



Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford’s Keviyon Price, left, and Kameron Lakes, right, box out for a rebound during a non-conference boys basketball game against Greenfield on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Red Devils won, 63-60.



Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford’s Keviyon Price shoots during a non-conference boys basketball game against Greenfield on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Red Devils won, 63-60.



Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford’s Keany Parks looks for a shot during a non-conference boys basketball game against Greenfield on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Red Devils won, 63-60.



Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford’s DeAndre Jennings goes up for a shot during a non-conference boys basketball game against Greenfield on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Red Devils won, 63-60.



Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford vs. Greenfield

Bradford’s Jamisen Young goes up for a shot during a non-conference boys basketball game against Greenfield on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Red Devils won, 63-60.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Alex Sippy, right, gets ready to defend Racine Case’s Terryon Brumby on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Wyatt Anderson, center, tries to corral the ball in traffic Thursday against Racine Case during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central boys basketball coach James Hyllberg, center, gives instructions to his team Thursday against Racine Case during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Kenny Garth, center, smiles between Racine Case’s Adrian Bryant, left, and Terryon Brumby on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Ian Witt (22) attempts to block a shot against Racine Case on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Jakob Simmons follows the action on Thursday against Racine Case during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Devin Griffin puts up a shot as Racine Case’s Amari Jedkins puts his arms up to defend Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Devin Griffin, left, puts up a shot against Racine Case on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Devin Griffin, left, Michael Mulhollon, center, and Alex Sippy, right, come together to talk on Thursday against Racine Case during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Devin Griffin, left, looks to drive against Racine Case on Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



Central vs. Racine Case

Central vs. Racine Case

Central’s Devin Griffin puts up a shot as Racine Case’s Cam Werner, center, goes for the block Thursday during the final night of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Eagles handed the Falcons their first loss of the season, 69-56.



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