BLOOMINGTON, ind. – In Trayce Jackson-Davis' mind, he was gone. The coach who had recruited him had been fired, half of his teammates were in the transfer portal and the mood inside their Indiana basketball program was somber at best.
It was time to go, he thought. It was time to hire and agent and head off to the NBA. His parents, Ray and Karla Jackson, thought that was a good idea, too.
And then Mike Woodson entered the picture.
When the Indiana basketball legend was introduced as the Hoosiers' new basketball coach on Monday, he made Jackson-Davis his priority, Sure, it was part of being able to hit the ground running, because Indiana – or any team, really – is better with Jackson-Davis on it rather than not.
But what's also important to know is that Woodson – who's as sincere and as genuine as anyone I've known in the game of basketball – also wants to help Trayce get better as a player. There's a lot of talent there, which is evident when you average 19 points and 9 rebounds in the Big Ten, but there's also a ton of untapped potential.
That was part of Woodson's pitch when they met on Thursday.
"Me and my dad (Ray Jackson), we had a sit-down for two hours with Coach Woodson (Thursday) and talked about my future,'' Jackson-Davis said when he met with the media on Friday afternoon. "We talked about where he sees me in the offense, how he can help develop me into the player that I aspire to be, and also winning basketball games here. He told us when he came in that he doesn't want to rebuild, he wants to win right away. He said I'm a big piece to that. After hearing that, after hearing an NBA coach tell you that, it just really was a simple decision to come back and play for him, honestly.''
It's wasn't just simple. It was a change, considering he already had a foot out the door, and his parents supported the move. It was a trying time after Archie Miller got fired on March 15.
"When the coaches got fired, my mindset was honestly I didn't know who they were going to bring in. I was going to wait anyway, but I was almost dead set on entering the draft and hiring an agent. That was probably two weeks ago.
"Then after the hiring of Coach Woodson, I wanted to see what he had to say, his thoughts about the team, about me and my development, how he can help me. So I sat down with him (earlier in the week) and we talked a little bit. I really liked him. But my parents were still dead set on me going to the NBA. I said, 'How about you come down, dad, and give him a chance, see what he has to say?'
"That's what we did. We had a two-hour conversation. My dad said, Give us five minutes.' We went out of Coach Woodson's office, went into a little meeting room, and he said, 'You're staying.' That's how that went.''
And thus ends the discussion on whether or not Mike Woodson can recruit. In one meeting, he convinced Trayce Jackson-Davis to stay, and even more importantly, convinced Trayce's dad that it was the right thing to do, too.''
Mike Woodson is going to do a lot of great things at Indiana, which is why I called it a home-run hire in the first and was a minority voice. That fact that he's never coached in college means nothing. You could hear it in his words that what meant a lot to Jackson-Davis was that Woodson was an NBA coach.
He KNOWS what it takes to excel at that level. And he wants to get Jackson-Davis there, too. He knew last year that he had to add a perimeter jump shot to his game, and get better with his right hand around the rim, too.
And with Woodson, that's the first order of business. Jackson-Davis is much more than the low-post center that he had to be all season under Miller.
"Most definitely. Joey (Brunk's back injury) was a big part of it, and I was just trying to play the role that Coach Miller needed me to play. Obviously I tried to do that to the best of my abilities.
"But Coach Woodson, he basically told me that 'we're going to get your right hand going, we're going to get that right and we're going to get your jump shot right.' Basically he wants me to shoot those shots in game. He said if I don't shoot them, he's going to take me out of the game. It's kind of like that. He needs me to be a better player, be a better playmaker, so that's what I'm going to do. I think that part of my game is going to open up a lot of things for our team, really. Teams won't be able to just pack it in.''
Jackson-Davis, who's always been one of the best public speakers on the Indiana roster, was pretty blunt on Friday. Things weren't fun this past year under Miller. Indiana's offense was "robotic,'' he said. He's right, We all saw it. It was hard to watch – and even harder to play in.
"I think last year we struggled at times because we never really played up-tempo. I feel like when we played up-tempo, we were really good,'' Jackson-Davis said. "I feel like we were set-oriented too much. We didn't really just get the ball and go. I feel like we were more robotic than basketball players.
"I feel like Coach Woodson is really going to let the leashes off, let us actually play our games. I feel like that's going to really help a lot of my teammates, really going to help people like Rob (Phinisee), and if Khristian comes back, those guys can go out and flat-out score. They really didn't get a chance to because we were always running sets.''
Woodson's arrival has immediately added life to Indiana's moribund program. The difference is that swift, that immediate.
"I think that the mood here is really, really, really, really positive,'' Jackson-Davis said. "I feel like there's a light. I feel like we've been in the dark for a while. There wasn't any energy. Like, there was no energy here. Like, all the life after the season was sucked out of us.
"Ever since Coach Woodson got hired, I feel like it's been almost like a new positive vibe has come. We've been hooping, we've been playing some open gyms, us and the guys. Excited to be playing basketball again. Excited to be out there, just being part of the team, getting work in, honestly.
"With him not being able to really talk to us yet because of all the recruiting stuff, when he does talk to us, I think he really has the knowledge and knows what he's talking about, what he's saying. I think it's really good. I think there's a positive energy here right now.''
Jackson-Davis' return just might open the flood gates for those four remaining Indiana players in the transfer portal to return. Armaan Franklin, Race Thompson, Khristian Lander and Jordan Geronimo still haven't made any decisions.
Jackson-Davis will become a recruiter now.
"My teammates, those are all my brothers,'' he said. "I want what's best for them, first and foremost. I'm going to support their decisions no matter what they choose.
"But I really feel like with the situation that we have going here, Assembly Hall being packed again, having fans back, being able to play under a new style of offense, I really feel like there's no point to leave. I feel like all the necessary tools are right here at our disposal. We have an NBA coach coming in. 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.''
What you also need to know about this move is that Jackson-Davis isn't just doing this to improve his NBA stock. He understands Indiana basketball history, and what's expected of Indiana players on the floor. It's not about going 12-15 and being uhappy.
He wants to win – at Indiana. Right now.
"My legacy? I want to get Indiana basketball back on track. That's my goal. That's why I came back,'' he said. "I believe in this tradition. I believe what we have here is something special. I want to be one of the reasons why. I don't want to be someone who ran away when it was tough.
"But really, all in all, I believe in Coach Woodson and I believe in the tradition of Indiana basketball. I know we can get it back.''
That can happen, for sure. And this is a huge first step in the right direction. Mike Woodson is making it his personal responsibility to turn Jackson-Davis from a good player to a great player.
And everyone benefits from that.
Related stories on Indiana basketball
- JACKSON-DAVIS RETURNS: Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, a third-team All-American this season, is coming back to the Hoosiers for his junior year. CLICK HERE
- WATCH FULL INTERVIEW: After making his announcement to stay with the Hoosiers, Trayce Jackson-Davis met with the media and was very open in answering questions. Here is the full video interview. CLICK HERE
- STEWART WITHDRAWS FROM PORTAL: Indiana's Parker Stewart has withdrawn his name from the transfer portal and will play with the Hoosiers next season. CLICK HERE