Immediately after Archie Miller was fired as Indiana’s men’s basketball coach, Trayce Jackson-Davis was more than just leaning toward going pro.
“I didn’t know who they were going to bring in. I was going to wait anyways,” Jackson-Davis said, “but I was almost dead set on entering the draft and hiring an agent.”
Jackson-Davis used those same two words — “dead set” — to describe his parents’ perspective on the matter. They wanted him to go pro, too.
But that was before IU hired New York Knicks assistant Mike Woodson. After one meeting with a coach who has been where Jackson-Davis wants to be, the 6-foot-9 sophomore found his mind leaning in a different direction. His parents, though, had to be sold.
“How about you come down, dad, and give him a chance and see what he has to say?” Jackson-Davis told his father, Ray Jackson.
That second meeting between Woodson, IU’s star forward, and the star forward’s father began to answer a question. It’s a question that was bound to be asked when IU hired a 63-year-old who has never coached a college game.
Can Mike Woodson recruit?
In two meetings, Woodson made his pitch to a first-team All-Big Ten player, sitting with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Ray Jackson for two hours. Ray and Trayce only needed an additional five minutes, alone, to come to a mutual conclusion.
Maybe they didn’t even need that much time.
“We went to a little meeting room,” Jackson-Davis said, “and (Ray) said ‘You’re staying.’”
Woodson just won one of his first recruits, and it may be the biggest one he ever lands. Instead of embarking on a rebuild, the Hoosiers are going to return one of the country’s best post players, a long, athletic four-man who still needs to develop a right hand and prove he has a midrange jumper that can space NBA defenses.
He’s trusting Woodson to bring those changes about.
Jackson-Davis’ return isn’t the only recruiting win Woodson has posted in his first week on the job, either. He was able to secure Kenya Hunter as an assistant, keeping a well-respected recruiter in the fold. Hunter’s choice to stay almost certainly influenced Parker Stewart’s decision to pull out of the transfer portal, as well, because they have a longstanding relationship. Woodson was also able to affirm commitments from 2021 signee Logan Duncomb and 2022 verbal pledge C.J. Gunn, keeping the Hoosiers’ future in good standing.
Woodson still has work to do in the portal, because starters Armaan Franklin and Race Thompson are still there. Freshmen Khristian Lander and Jordan Geronimo are looking around, as well. But if Woodson’s pitch to Jackson-Davis was any indication, it seems the former NBA coach has a message that resonates.
He’s saying he can develop a college athlete. Jackson-Davis believed him.
“The thing he really told me is the things that I did not want to hear,” Jackson-Davis said. “He told me what I needed to work on, he showed me clips of me playing. He showed me my missed shots, what I should have done in this situation, where I needed to take shots, and that’s all my dad talks about. He talks about the things I need to improve on. He never talks about what I’m good at.
“That right there was already showing me he wants what’s best for me.”
Woodson made as much known in the opening 24 hours of his tenure at IU. In a sitdown with radioman Don Fischer, Woodson said he would “beg” for Jackson-Davis to return because the big man needed to develop a right-handed shot. He needed to stretch the floor.
In his meetings with Jackson-Davis, Woodson didn’t just tell him he needed to develop those aspects. Woodson told Jackson-Davis if he didn’t shoot jumpers for IU, he wouldn’t play.
That is how Woodson intends to build the Hoosiers. He will find their weaknesses first.
“I really feel like with the situation we have going here, Assembly Hall being packed again, having fans back, being able to play under a new style of offense, I feel like there’s no point to leave,” Jackson-Davis said, referencing his teammates. “All the necessary tools are right here at our disposal. We have an NBA coach coming in. I mean, what else do you want?
“If I’m being honest, that’s really my pitch. Obviously, they need to do what’s best for them, but I want them here. All of them.”
The return of Stewart, a 6-5 junior guard, is one big piece. Jackson-Davis said the midseason transfer from UT-Martin is a “hooper” and a shot-maker, someone who can really open up the floor for IU. Jackson-Davis thinks the Hoosiers will be able to play a more open, up-tempo style under Woodson, which will also benefit point guards like Rob Phinisee and Lander.
Of course, Jackson-Davis would really like to see his classmate, Armaan Franklin, come back. The second-most improved scorer in the Big Ten last season, Franklin’s 11.4 points per game and 42.9% shooting from deep could be another game-changer for Woodson in Year 1.
But Franklin is just someone who might need more time to figure things out.
“I know he’s iffy, he doesn’t know. He’s a guy, it’s more about trust. He’s not a guy to take a leap of faith,” Jackson-Davis said. “So he just really wants to kind of hear what Coach Woodson says a little bit more.
“He can take all the time he needs. But I know that I want him here and I want to play with him this next year.”
Everyone has to make their own decision, but Jackson-Davis is set in his.
He is dead set on staying. He is sold on becoming the player Woodson says he can be.
“I averaged 19 and 9 this year strictly using my left hand,” Jackson-Davis said. “Being able to open up my game even more, the sky’s the limit, really.”