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BLOOMINGTON – Trayce Jackson-Davis thinks he surprised his coach last Thursday, when he told Mike Woodson he planned to withdraw from the NBA draft and return for a fourth college season.
Jackson-Davis delivered that decision to his coach roughly 24 hours before announcing it to the world via social media, IU’s all-conference big man declaring Woodson “ecstatic.”
“He’s probably still smiling right now,” Jackson-Davis said in a Monday Zoom meeting.
Once he’s over the case of COVID-19 that’s left him asymptomatic but nevertheless held him out of last week’s NBA combine, Jackson-Davis will return to Bloomington for the first time in weeks. Across a candid half-hour meeting with the media Monday, he made clear his expectations for the coming season could not be higher.
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More than that, Jackson-Davis emphatically assumed responsibility for getting Indiana there, in every possible sense. He made it clear Monday afternoon he welcomes that pressure. It is undeniably his now.
“The ceiling for our team is anywhere from Big Ten championship to national championship, if I'm going to be honest with you,” Jackson-Davis said. “I set my standards high.”
There is an extent to which Jackson-Davis will always have had to carry the burden of expectation in the season to come. More is always expected of stars.
He could have stayed in the draft, saying Monday he was confident he would have gotten a guaranteed contract if he had. Multiple teams, he said, told Jackson-Davis they saw him as a firm second-round pick. The lost opportunity of the combine — when Jackson-Davis would’ve been able to work out for and speak to any team in the league — played into his decision to return for another year at IU.
Provided he stays healthy and produces at a rate commensurate to what he has in the past two years, Jackson-Davis will set or threaten several IU career records, including total rebounds and total blocks. He stands a very good chance of being the first Hoosier since A.J. Guyton to break 2,000 points. He will be an early frontrunner for Big Ten player of the year.
He spoke Monday like someone who doesn’t care.
“If I don't need to score that much and we're playing really well, that's what we're going to do,” he said. “I'm more set on winning the Big Ten than trying to chase records. If we're playing the right way, I think the records will come.”
Without context, that’s just playerspeak. Canned unselfishness paid lip service through well-worn cliches.
In context, it represented Jackson-Davis laying down a challenge to his teammates to meet his sky-high expectations, and not just on the floor.
Doubling down on recent public comments, Jackson-Davis affirmed he told Woodson his preference would be for anyone testing positive for drugs to be kicked off the team after their first offense. The usual bar is three.
“If you're that selfish to do that during the season, then you don't need to play for this university. I think it's plain and simple,” he said. “They've kind of been sticklers about it, but it's always giving chances and chances and chances. Being the team captain, I feel like we've had enough chances.
“We're mature enough to know what's right and what's wrong. That's a big thing for us. I think it's a big thing with a lot of the teams I've been on with the drugs affecting our team. So we're not having that this year. We have enough to do.”
Jackson-Davis did not stop there.
When a reporter asked a question apparently referring to point guard Xavier Johnson’s April arrest, Jackson-Davis promised “X is going to have his head straight,” and that both Jackson-Davis and sixth-year forward Race Thompson would make sure of it.
“We’re going to make the right decisions,” he said. “He’s going to make the right decisions for us. There’s not going to be any of that, no funny business going on.”
Throughout his career, Jackson-Davis has often been among Indiana’s most thoughtful players in media settings. He’s rarely been shy. Even by those standards, Monday’s Zoom was remarkably candid. Locker room culture, season-wide expectations — few if any of Jackson-Davis’ comments seemed canned, and nothing appeared off limits.
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He even talked openly about changes he’d like to see in Indiana’ day-to-day development.
Acknowledging the Hoosiers were a much more polished team defensively than offensively last season, Jackson-Davis pointed to both individual improvement (Tamar Bates got a name check) and collective growth that could raise IU’s ceiling this winter. And while he didn’t openly question Woodson’s methods in any way, Jackson-Davis wasn’t shy about suggestions for team-wide development.
“A lot of guys didn't get a chance to play with certain guys last year, and I think that's going to change,” he said. “We're going to mix it around a lot. We spent last year focusing on defense, and we rarely focused on offense. Just seeing what we can do and what we can achieve with actually putting more time and effort in is going to be really key for us.”
Like so much of what Jackson-Davis said, that comment didn’t feel so much like a challenge to Woodson’s authority as it did simply a player sharing publicly things he’d already discussed at length with his coach. And while Jackson-Davis clearly still respects the chain of command (for lack of a better term), Monday felt like the moment he elevated his own responsibility to his program to a level Indiana has not known in some years.
He addressed legacy. He set expectations strikingly high. He even waded ever so briefly into the perilous blue-blood debate.
“When Indiana basketball is good, college basketball is good,” he said. “I think we have a chance to be really, really good next year."
In doing all this, Jackson-Davis sent a message college players rarely do. In so many words, he stood shoulder to shoulder with his program-legend head coach, and astride one of college basketball’s biggest brands, and assumed responsibility for it.
Now back for a fourth year, a degree, a bagful of records and, if he has his way, some major hardware, Trayce Jackson-Davis is neither shy about expectations, nor shrinking from what he perceives as required to realize them.
He wanted that pressure. He has it. Indiana’s next 12 months, and concurrently his legacy, are firmly in Jackson-Davis’ own hands now.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IU basketball: Trayce Jackson-Davis came back to lead, win Big Ten