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My Two Cents: Demanding Leader Will Be Trayce Jackson-Davis’ Greatest Trait This Season

The first thing Trayce Jackson-Davis has done upon announcing that he's coming back to Bloomington for his fourth year is lay down the law to his teammates, that no stupid behavior will be tolerated. His leadership might be the most important thing he brings to the table this season, even more than his points and rebounds and blocked shots.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Trayce Jackson-Davis' decision to come back to Indiana for a fourth season means that when it's all over, his numbers are going to rank right up there with the all-time greats in the Hoosiers' historic program.

So, yes, there will be plenty of points and rebounds and blocked shots this season. And, more than likely, there will be many more wins, too.

But all of that will take a back seat to the most important thing he will bring to the table in this 2022-23 season. What matters most? It's his leadership, by far. He's all done with players acting up and getting in trouble. 

And in the past few days, he has talked about drug and discipline issues that have been a problem during his three years at Indiana, and he has laid down the law that he won't allow any of that this year.

He's coming back for a reason — to try to win some championships, Big Ten or otherwise — and he's not going to let off-the-court stupidness and selfishness get in the way. He doesn't want teammates getting multiple chances to screw up.

It stops now, Jackson-Davis said, and with zero tolerance.

'Just me being a senior, it's different. It's my last year. This is my last time being at IU, and I don't want anything of that nature ruining our season,'' Jackson-Davis said Monday. "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.

"(His coaches have) 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 was quick to point out that the drug issues he referenced were more about his first two teams at Indiana under Archie Miller than it was last year. But five guys — Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Khristian Lander, Michael Durr and freshman Tamar Bates — were suspended for a game at Northwestern for curfew violations. Stewart also was suspended for a half in December for an undisclosed ''violation of team rules.''

Stewart (UT-Martin), Durr (Central Florida) and Lander (Western Kentucky) are all gone, entering the transfer portal and moving on to new schools. (Rob Phinisee, who graduated two weeks ago, transferred as well, and will play his fifth and final season at Cincinnati.

Jackson-Davis is still bothered about those suspensions from the February game, primarily because of what that eventual lost almost cost them. Had it not been for two upset wins in the Big Ten Tournament, Indiana would have missed the NCAA Tournament, with the Northwestern loss being a big reason why.

With goals set higher, that stupidity needs to go away.

"Not necessarily as much last year. I think more just getting in trouble in general,'' Jackson-Davis answer in a follow-up question about the drug issues. "Obviously there's things that happen behind the scenes, but I'm not really going to go into that. It definitely has had effects in the past. So I'll just leave it at that.''

Jackson-Davis talked a lot about team chemistry and better behavior, and that puts point guard Xavier Johnson squarely in the crosshairs. They were practically unstoppable together as a one-two punch in the final month of the season, but Johnson has been an off-court problem, too. So there's a bit of a contradiction there. 

Johnson was arrested in early April on a misdemeanor reckless driving charge, plus a felony charge resisting law enforcement after driving 90 mph up North Walnut Street in trying to elude police. 

His court case is still pending, and probably won't be resolved any time soon. A suspension of some length in likely looming, and his bad behavior has to stop. He's not a kid anymore. He'll be 23 in October.

That's where Jackson-Davis' leadership will come into play the most — with Johnson being around a different group of teammates. (Stewart was with him when he got arrested, too.) 

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"Most definitely, I think X is going to have his head straight. He's going to be with me most of the time, me and Race,'' Jackson-Davis said. "That's who he's going to hang out with, who he's going to be with. We're going to make the right decisions. He's going to make the right decisions for us. There's not going to be any of that, no funny business going on.

"Coach Woodson and him have already had those discussions. So he's ready to get started, ready to get to work for next year.''

Jackson-Davis' decision to return to Indiana after testing the NBA waters didn't come as a huge surprise, but it was nice that it turned out this way, nonetheless. His return, combined with Race Thompson coming back and a great recruiting class coming in, has him excited.

This is, without question, the best team he's played on at Indiana. And that has him excited.

"I think intensity-wise, we have a great team. I think everyone worked as hard as possible,'' he said. "We ran a lot last year with more emphasis on defense. This year, having more emphasis on the offensive game plan because our defense is going to carry over from last year, we've just got to speed some of the younger guys up.

"I think the biggest thing for us would probably be offensively more sets, stuff of that nature. Just trying to get meshed together more, play with different guys. Last year we had two teams, so it was like the starting five and the bench. We would play against each other. We would never switch up the teams. That's where the starting five and the bench players would play together. I think that's huge for us to just get our team chemistry better.''

For the first time in his three years, really, he felt the vibe in March last year, when Indiana's run through the Big Ten Tournament against Michigan, Illinois and Iowa raised the intensity level around this problem. That was a ton of fun, and he felt the love from Indiana fans — and others.

"When Indiana basketball is good, college basketball is good, I'll say that,'' Jackson-Davis said. "I think we have a chance to be really, really good next year. Absolutely. I think this is the best team that I've been on since I've been here. It's the talent that we have. We have talent all across the board from the guards all the way down to the centers. We have dudes that care about the program, and are here for the right things.

"I think the big thing that we didn't have last year that we have this year is our team chemistry. Last year, we had three guys come in and start for us (Johnson, Stewart and Miller Kopp) that we didn't know, like we never played with them. We had to build our chemistry over the summer. Having a full year of experience with them and then adding two, three, or four freshmen in, I think it's going to be huge for us.''

Jackson-Davis repeatedly brought up winning the Big Ten on Monday. He's never even had a chance to contend for a title — his IU teams have gone 9-11, 7-12 and 9-11 in his first three years — but this team is loaded with talent from top to bottom, and he enters the new season as one of the best returning players in the country

"I think the ceiling for our team is anywhere from Big Ten Championship to National Championship, if I'm going to be honest with you,'' he said. "I set my standards high. We had those standards last year, but obviously it wasn't the way our season went. I think now — knowing with guys and what they do, their tendencies and what they're capable of — I think it's going to be huge for us. Now Coach Woodson has a year of college under his belt, and that's going to be big for him as well.''

Jackson-Davis spent a lot of time in California training for the draft process. He did his Monday interview from his parents' house in Greenwood, and he's excited to get back to Bloomington and get to work with his guys.

"They were all excited. They really didn't bother me that much about my decision,'' Jackson-Davis said. "Obviously, X was a big advocate on Twitter, but I talked to Race a little bit about it. They were all like, make the best decision for you. Obviously they're ecstatic I'm coming back.

"That's all my guys. I haven't seen them in two months. I can't wait to go back down on campus and see them. They're excited. They're ready to go to work. I think they expect the same things that I do.''

There is no doubt that this is his team, and he is their leader. He's not going to put up with any antics this year, and he's made that clear. He's done a lot of good things at Indiana, but he has yet to win at a high level.

That's the next step, and it starts right now. One last ride.

  • JACKSON-DAVIS LEAVING A LEGACY: It became an easy decision for Trayce Jackson-Davis to return to Indiana after a positive covid test kept him from competing at the NBA Draft Combine. And after receiving feedback on how he can improve his game, he's ready to leave a legacy at Indiana. CLICK HERE
  • JACKSON-DAVIS RETURNS: Trayce Jackson-Davis has withdrawn from the 2022 NBA Draft and will return to Indiana for his fourth season. With this news, Indiana now has a full roster that includes four returning starters and a top-10 recruiting class. CLICK HERE
  • FINAL GRADES 2022: Here's is Tom Brew's ''Final Grades'' report card on Trayce Jackson-Davis' 2021-22 season. It's not surprise that he got the highest grade of anyone. CLICK HERE
  • 1,000-POINT SCORERS: Trayce Jackson-Davis became the 54th player in Indiana basketball history to score at least 1,000 points in a career, and by the end of the season, he was No. 15. Here's the complete list, and who's next for Trayce to pass next year. Greg Graham, you're on the clock. CLICK HERE