The impressive basketball ascent of Trayce Jackson-Davis over the past few years provided him with some options. Playing pro ball might have been one of them — but Center Grove’s career scoring leader decided that it could wait.
Jackson-Davis, the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball and one of Indiana University’s best players as a freshman, said in February that he would return to the Hoosiers for the 2020-21 season.
The COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States hard a month later, and the 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward/center began to rethink things.
Should he stay or declare for the NBA draft?
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By April, Jackson-Davis had decided to go back to Bloomington.
“Yeah, I’d say for a good two months that was a discussion in my family,” Jackson-Davis said. “I feel there was no right or wrong decision. Most definitely, I think I would have missed college and playing in Assembly Hall.
“I really control my own destiny, so I only have myself to blame if I made the wrong decision. But I have a lot of confidence in myself. When I was a freshman and sophomore in high school, I didn’t have a lot of confidence, but the work I put in before my junior year really helped me.”
The dedication to improving during the months preceding the 2017-18 season was the start of Jackson-Davis evolving from a good high school player with unlimited potential to becoming the first Mr. Basketball from Johnson County since 1941.
His work is far from done. Jackson-Davis knows this, respects it and continues to put in the time required to strengthen both his body and skill set.
“The biggest emphasis for me in the offseason was definitely my conditioning, working in the weight room and working on my jump shot,” said Jackson-Davis, who averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks for an IU squad that appeared destined for the NCAA tournament before it was canceled due to the pandemic.
“I want to improve on pick-and-pop 3-pointers, and being able to take people off the dribble. Coach (Archie) Miller thinks my lower body is pretty strong, but wanted me to work on my upper body.”
Depending on the media outlet gauging prospects, Jackson-Davis is projected as going anywhere from the lottery to undrafted in the 2021 NBA draft should he declare. USA Today projects him as the eighth overall selection, and Bleacher Report has him going 28th overall.
“Trayce has to continue to evolve from a freshman to that natural progression as a sophomore where not everything’s new to him anymore,” Miller said. “Now he’s leading the way more along the lines than learning on the run.
“Very few players in America are as impressive or as productive as him, and I think he just has to up the production. He’s got to be a dominant, dominant rebounder for us. Scoring, there’s got to be some different ways he can attack. I think having more space to play and more guys around him, it will make him better on ball screens and help him be more of an offensive weapon on the run.”
The 2020-21 season marks the reunion of Jackson-Davis and his high school jersey number (23) after he wore No. 4 as a freshman. Last year’s No. 23 for the Hoosiers, forward Damezi Anderson, transferred during the spring to Loyola of Chicago.
“At first, I thought wearing a different number was kind of weird, but I got used to it pretty quickly,” Jackson-Davis said. “Definitely my favorite player ever is LeBron James, and (freshman guard) Kristian (Lander) wore No. 4 in high school, so it kind of worked out.”