Editor’s note: This is the first of a multi-part series featuring stories on Indiana men’s basketball players.
Trayce Jackson-Davis could have stayed in the NBA Draft last year, left Indiana men’s basketball and gone on to a professional career. No one would have blamed him.
But the junior forward is back in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. As the best player on a good Indiana team, he knows what’s expected of him. He’s grown as a leader in the locker room and as a player on the court. If he has his way, he’ll leave when another banner is raised.
“I have kind of set the stone of my individual legacy, being an All-American and doing all those things, but those don't really matter if you don't win something here,” Jackson-Davis said at Indiana basketball media day Sept. 22. “Winning is a big thing here... if I do that, I know everything else will take care of itself.”
Indiana is entering this season as one of the favorites in the Big Ten and is returning most of its production from last season. Jackson-Davis is the biggest piece of that puzzle, and when he withdrew from the draft, Indiana immediately launched up the preseason rankings.
“The fact that he made the commitment to come back is huge for our program,” Woodson said. “He’s like the piece to the program.”
Jackson-Davis has understood more about the importance of Indiana basketball each year he’s been here. He’s grasped a better knowledge of the program’s history and said he knows college basketball is better when Indiana is good.
Amid questions of whether he’d leave for the draft, Jackson-Davis has returned to Indiana for two straight years under Woodson in hopes of bringing Indiana basketball back to national relevance.
Alongside Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, Jackson-Davis is now the premiere forward in the Big Ten. After years of battling with Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn, it’s the Indiana big man’s time to push around the rest of the conference.
In the Big Ten Tournament last season, Jackson-Davis got the better of Dickinson, scoring 24 points and helping the Hoosiers knock off the Wolverines. In Indiana’s next game against Illinois, with Woodson reminding Jackson-Davis that Cockburn had his number, Jackson-Davis said he entered the game as confident as ever.
Cockburn outscored Jackson-Davis by two, but Indiana beat Illinois, 65-63.
“He’s a terrific player, but I’m glad he’s gone,” Jackson-Davis said.
Jackson-Davis, who was projected to go around No. 45 in the 2022 NBA Draft before he withdrew, spent part of last year learning what he needs to do to make it in the pros. While working draft prep on the West Coast, Jackson-Davis said he spent nearly all his time working on his shooting, including jumpers, 3-pointers and free throws.
A key part of his game that will need to expand is his perimeter shooting. He’s taken three career 3-pointers, all coming last season and all misses. Over the summer, videos emerged of Jackson-Davis working out and hitting 3s.
Woodson said Jackson-Davis has the green light to shoot 3s in games this season. In practices, he’s hit some of his shots, but Woodson knows the bigger test is if he can make them during games.
“Coach is not telling him not to — put it that way,” Woodson said.
Jackson-Davis' ability to open up his range could receive help from his forward teammates this season. Last year, Jackson-Davis said he felt his presence was needed on the inside, but with the development of sophomore Logan Duncomb and the addition of freshman Malik Reneau at the center position, Jackson-Davis said he will likely play more power forward and expand the floor.
But beyond making 3-pointers and getting drafted into the NBA, Jackson-Davis is well aware of the legacy he could leave behind at Indiana. Another season in Bloomington will help him continue to climb the program’s leaderboards.
He’s already in the top 10 in rebounds, blocked shots and shooting percentage. In points, he currently stands at No. 15 and could crack the top 5 if he produces at the same level he did in his first three seasons.
But his legacy will forever be cemented if he wins a Big Ten title or a national title. His name would sit in the same sentence as Hoosier greats like Isiah Thomas, Scott May, Steve Alford and Calbert Cheaney.
That’s his goal.