When IU fired men’s basketball head coach Archie Miller on March 15, sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was ready to leave.
He dominated the Big Ten this past season, averaging 19.1 points, 9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, and was named first-team All-Big Ten and a third-team All-American selection. But after a disappointing season in which IU regressed from his freshman year, finishing 12-15 and missing the NCAA Tournament, Jackson-Davis felt it was time to move on.
“I was almost dead-set on entering the draft and then hiring an agent,” Jackson-Davis said at a press conference Friday.
Jackson-Davis said after the season the energy has been sucked out of the program.
Then on Sunday, IU hired its 30th head coach in program history, Mike Woodson, and everything changed for Jackson-Davis.
He said as soon as Woodson was hired, the team was rejuvenated with new positive vibes. Jackson-Davis said the team has gotten together this week for an open gym shootaround and is excited to be playing basketball again.
Coming from the NBA and being the former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, what Woodson could bring to the team intrigued Jackson-Davis. He wanted to meet and hear about Woodson’s plans for both the program and himself.
Jackson-Davis’ desire to meet was exactly what Woodson had hoped for. In an interview Tuesday with IU’s play-by-play announcer, Don Fischer, Woodson said he was going to beg Jackson-Davis to stay at IU.
Luckily for Woodson, he didn’t have to beg. Instead, he just had to do what sold Athletic Director Scott Dolson on hiring him: coach.
“The things that he really told me are the things that I did not want to hear,” Jackson-Davis said. “He told me what I needed to work on. He showed me clips of me playing, he showed me my missed shots, what I should have done in this situation and why I needed to take shots.”
The honesty Woodson gave in his evaluation was just what Jackson-Davis wanted. He said it was similar to the feedback his dad gives him, pointing out what needs to be improved on and not just focusing on the good.
After his conversation with Woodson, Jackson-Davis knew he wanted to return.
But while the star sophomore may have been sold, Jackson-Davis’ parents weren’t so ready for him to return to Bloomington for one more year. Jackson-Davis said despite his 180-degree turn from wanting to enter the draft, his parents were still dead-set on him leaving for the NBA.
To convince his parents, Jackson-Davis got them to come down to Bloomington on Thursday to meet with Woodson. After a two-hour meeting, Jackson-Davis’ father asked for five minutes with his family away from the coach.
The discussion was short and to the point.
“You’re staying,” his father said.
Jackson-Davis announced his decision to return for his junior year Friday on Twitter.
With the decision to stay behind him, Jackson-Davis said his focus has shifted to improving the pieces of his game Woodson pointed out in their meeting. Two of the big ones were getting Jackson-Davis comfortable finishing with his right hand and extending his range with a consistent jump shot.
At the end of the 2019-20 season, Jackson-Davis said both using his right hand and developing a jump shot were two aspects he was prioritizing to take his game to the next level and become a more NBA-ready prospect. But when Joey Brunk was injured, forcing him to miss the entire season, Jackson-Davis had to play out of position as a center, limiting his ability to expand his skillset.
“[Woodson] told me that ‘We’re going to get your right hand going, and we’re going to get that right. And we’re going to get your jump shot right,’” Jackson-Davis said. “He wants me basically to shoot those shots in-game. If I don’t shoot them, he’s going to take me out of the game.”
Outside of his game, Jackson-Davis is also doing what he can to convince his teammates that haven’t made up their minds to stay.
Jackson-Davis said between the idea of playing in front of a packed Assembly Hall and Woodson’s more fast-paced, free-flowing offense, IU has the chance to be special next season. Hewants all of his teammates to be here to experience that.
“I really feel like there's no point to leave,” Jackson-Davis said. “I feel like all the necessary tools are right here at our disposal. We got an NBA coach coming in. I mean, what else do you want, if I’m being honest?”
After deciding to return to college for his junior year, Jackson-Davis has an opportunity to further cement his legacy at IU.
This season, Jackson-Davis became the first player since Yogi Ferrell in 2016 to be named to both the All-American and All-Big Ten teams in a single season.
“I want to get Indiana basketball back on track. That’s my goal,” Jackson-Davis said. “That’s why I came back because I believe in tradition. I believe what we have here is something special, and I want to be one of the reasons why. I don’t want to be someone who ran away when it was tough.”