It was all smiles between Indiana men’s basketball’s upperclassmen at Big Ten Media Days at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Friday.
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, senior guard Rob Phinisee and senior forward Race Thompson talked about Indiana’s growth as a team over the summer and how they’re prepared to lead their younger teammates in head coach Mike Woodson’s new system.
Phinisee spoke about the sense of comradery that exists between the team heading into the 2021-22 season compared to years past. He said the players have collectively bought into Woodson’s plan and formed good relationships by studying each other’s skills.
“I would say it’s a lot better,” Phinisee said. “Guys are happy. The type of system Coach Woodson has put in, I feel like guys are able to play their game and we’re able to see everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, so we can adapt to each other pretty well and fast.”
Jackson-Davis said he’s made major strides toward becoming a voice in the locker room that demands attention, particularly since Woodson has implemented a player-led mentality in his new system.
“I think my freshman year I kind of didn’t have a say in anything because I was the new guy on campus,” Jackson-Davis said. “I kind of held my tongue. Last year I spoke up a lot more in the locker room. This year I’ve taken the full pledge of trying to lead guys and make sure my teammates can go to me.”
Some examples Jackson-Davis noted included making sure his teammates aren’t late to practice and letting them know they can come to him with whatever problems they’re having if they’d prefer not to go to Woodson.
The All-American forward recalled the time Woodson called him into his office and declared him team captain. Soon enough, Woodson asked Jackson-Davis who else was fit to lead with him.
“That was big to me because he’s already trusting me and needs me to be a leader,” Jackson-Davis said. “He came up to me a few weeks later and said ‘Is there anyone else?’ and I said Race. We’re just trying to lead by example.”
All three players said Woodson has emphasized shooting the ball more and being more aggressive on the offensive end, either when looking at film or during one-on-one talks. Jackson-Davis recalled how Woodson used this method to convince him to stay at Indiana over the offseason.
“He showed me things I didn’t want to see,” Jackson-Davis said. “It was really big for me because usually when you’re trying to sell something you show a player what they’re good at. He was already coaching me even though he wasn’t my coach yet.”
During his press conference Friday, Woodson praised Phinisee and said he’s been one of the team’s bright spots in terms of creating chances offensively and cleaning up on the defensive end.
“I expect it,” Phinisee said. “I’m a senior guard so I’ll do whatever he wants me to do. He wants the team to be player-led, said he wants the guards to lead that initiate the offense. With new guys it’s about getting everyone in their spots.”
The battle for minutes at the point guard position between Phinisee and senior guard Xavier Johnson has yet to be completely decided. Both have been pushed to be better, but Phinisee said the two have a good relationship.
“I feel like we’re both playful guys, so we get along pretty well,” Phinisee said. “We do a lot of things together off the court.”
The Hoosiers’ confidence is at an all-time high ahead of their home opener against Eastern Michigan University on Nov. 9, and the custom-tailored, all-white suit Phinisee wore was the cherry on top.
“He looks like he’s about to go number one in the draft,” Jackson-Davis said.