Jackson-Davis’ Indiana legacy tied to March Madness run
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Trayce Jackson-Davis’ storybook career can be told many ways.
His stat sheet is one of the greatest in Indiana history: First player with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, career leader in blocks and rebounds, No. 3 all-time in scoring.
The accolades — first team preseason Associated Press All-American, four-time all-conference selection and first Hoosier in a decade to make consecutive Big Ten all-defensive teams — show how he’s revered by those outside the program.
Teammates speak glowingly of Jackson-Davis’ leadership, determination and commitment to restore the Hoosiers’ once proud and annual postseason tradition.
Yet the 6-foot-9 forward enters this year’s NCAA Tournament understanding the book has not closed on his college career.
“Gentleman, we’ve got a lot of ball left to be played,” he said following his final home game as he referenced the program’s championship history. “We’ve got to go get one of those (Big Ten titles) and then we’ve got to go get No. 6.”
At Indiana, after all, legacies are established by hanging banners.
Jackson-Davis’ first title run opportunity came up two wins short at last weekend’s conference tournament. His second shot, and likely his last, begins Friday as Indiana (22-11), the No. 4 seed, faces Mid-American Conference tourney champ Kent State (28-6) in Albany, New York.
Jackson-Davis certainly has done his part in ways that defy today’s trends.
The 2019 IndyStar Mr. Basketball Award winner could have gone to college anywhere but chose to play one hour from his home in Greenwood, Indiana, to don the trademark candy-striped pants.
He arrived as the latest in-state recruit expected to lead Indiana’s program back to national prominence and a sixth national championship. He has stuck around four years, despite the ever-changing script.
And while his 2,211 points, 1,124 rebounds, 260 blocks, 265 assists and 49 career double-doubles reveal one chapter, the respect he’s earned from others tells another tale.
“Trayce is fabulous, great person, great player,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “He’s added more pieces to his game. His decision-making when he first started was just OK. Now he’s gotten really good. When we made moves, our guys just bounced off him. He’s got a bright future.”
Many thought he was bound for the NBA after making the Big Ten’s all-conference and all-freshmen teams in 2019-20. Instead he came back to develop his right hand, extend his range and become a stronger post presence.
His sophomore season was marred by pandemic restrictions, mostly empty seats, unfulfilled dreams and eventually a coaching change that again nearly again prompted him to turn pro. One meeting with new coach Mike Woodson changed everything.
“I want to get Indiana basketball back on track. That’s my goal, that’s why I came back,” he said at the time. “I believe in the tradition. I believe what we have here is something special. I didn’t want to be someone who ran away when it was tough.”
Jackson-Davis made good on his promise over the past two seasons.
When a five-game losing skid late last season threatened to extend the Hoosiers NCAA Tournament drought to six years, Jackson-Davis put the team on his back and carried them to four wins in six games and a victory over Wyoming in the play-in round. Eight games in 15 days proved to be too much for the weary Hoosiers in a blowout loss to Saint Mary’s.
He was headed to the NBA draft combine until a positive COVID-19 test kept him home. He took it as a sign he should return for Year 4, setting up a battle royale with Purdue center Zach Edey to become the top big man in the Big Ten if not the nation.
“What sticks out to me is him telling me he was coming back and, you know, that kind of set the stage for where we are today,” Woodson said.
While the 7-foot-4 Edey had the size advantage, Jackson-Davis relied on his nimble moves, an advanced passing game, uncanny timing to thwart opponents’ shots and the vision to lead fast breaks in his most productive season yet. Former Northwestern sharp-shooter and current Indiana teammate Miller Kopp has watched the progression up close.
“I remember playing against him my freshman year. It’s like, the dude has been doing it since then, you know, been that dominant,” Kopp said. “It’s one thing to be a good player, a really good player in college, but to be able to do it year after year shows a lot.”
Jackson-Davis recently announced this would be his final college season, though the Senior Night crowd chanted “one more year” because they’re not ready to bid farewell to their popular star.
With a Friday matchup against former Hoosiers assistant coach Rob Senderoff and a potential Sweet 16 contest against top-seeded Houston and former Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson, could there be a more fitting final chapter for Jackson-Davis?
One memorable, banner-winning run would cement his place in Hoosiers’ history.
“I know I left everything I have out there on the court. I think Indiana fans and fans that enjoy college basketball will appreciate that,” he said. “But at the same time, we’ve still got some ball left to be played, and we’re just going to see what happens.”
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