BLOOMINGTON — When Trayce Jackson-Davis decided to come back for his sophomore season, the All-Big Ten forward went to work on expanding his game.
Through much of the spring during the coronavirus pandemic, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Jackson-Davis did his own social distancing. Hours were spent alone in the gym, firing up jump shots, extending his shooting range.
“I’ve been really working on my jump shot, stretching the floor,” Jackson-Davis said. “It’s going to be a big key for me this year. I’ve decided, during the quarantine, that’s all I’ve been working on is my jump shot. So, basically, I’ve just been shooting the ball a ton.”
Jackson-Davis discovered the importance of a perimeter game playing in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. In a season in which Jackson-Davis led the Hoosiers in scoring (13.5 points per game), rebounding (8.4 per game) and blocked shots (59) as a freshman, he found himself surrounded by bodies in and around the paint on most nights.
“The Big Ten is brutal,” Jackson-Davis said. “Not being able to space the floor really hurt me last year in certain parts of my games, teams being able to just pack it in. They kind of learned that late in the season. As I watched some of the other players, Kaleb Wesson, Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, all being able to step out and shoot the ball, really opened up the offense and a lot of their players did well from that. So I think that’s a big part for us this year.”
IU senior center Joey Brunk has noticed a difference in Jackson-Davis’ shooting ability during summer workouts.
“Trayce is more confident on the perimeter now than he has been,” Brunk said. “I think he has improved with his right hand and looks more comfortable with his right hand going to the basket. I think that’s going to be a big thing for him to work on and improve.”
Jackson-Davis did not attempt a 3-pointer for the Hoosiers last season but did show shooting range out to 18 feet in hitting big shots in the second half of the season at Minnesota and Penn State.
Indiana coach Archie Miller is expecting Jackson-Davis to grow in other areas as well, including leadership.
“Trayce has to continue to evolve from a freshman in that natural progression as a sophomore where not everything is new to him anymore,” Miller said. “So he’s leading the way more along the lines than he is learning on the run, but very, very few players as a freshman in America were more productive than him, and I think he has to just up the production.
“He has got to be dominant, dominant rebounder for us, scoring. There’s got to be some different ways he can attack.”
For leadership, Jackson-Davis has turned to Brunk for advice. The two are close friends off the court and often work out together during the offseason.
“Joey is probably going to be our most vocal leader this year, just the way he attacks every day, the way he’s on people,” Jackson-Davis said. “Not necessarily in a bad way but just wants them to be the best they can be. So, I mean, he’s going to be a big, big leader. I’m probably going to feed off his energy a lot this year.”
Jackson-Davis is already developing some chemistry with incoming five-star freshman point guard Khrisitian Lander. A more guard-oriented, athletic attack next season could benefit Jackson-Davis as well, who runs the court well for a big man and finished off his share of alley-oop dunks last season.
“I think that guards being able to drive the ball, less clogged areas, especially coming off of ball screens, it also allows the bigs to have more freedoms,” Jackson-Davis said. “You can pop to the top of the key, and we really play off of each other. So that’s what we’ve been really been working on right now.”
Miller is seeking strides from Jackson-Davis on the defensive end of the floor as well, continuing to be able to guard out on the perimeter along with protecting the rim inside.
“The one thing that I’ve challenged him moreso than anything is he has to become an elite defender,” Miller said. “ As a college freshman last year, defending smaller players on the perimeter, way too big to challenge, he’s more accustomed to that.
“Playing bigger players at times and not wanting to foul and play careful a little bit at times, he has to be much more disciplined and much more aggressive, and I would just use the word confidence on defense. He’s got to be way more confident than he was a year ago defensively for our team to take another jump.”