Appreciate Trayce Jackson-Davis' last IU ride; careers like this don't happen often.

1 month ago IndyStar

Appreciate Trayce Jackson-Davis' last IU ride; careers like this don't happen

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Insider video: 'Indiana is a marked team this time of year.'

IU Insider Zach Osterman and Wilson Moore break down the Hoosiers' narrow escape over Illinois on Saturday.

Zach Osterman and Wilson Moore, Indianapolis Star

BLOOMINGTON – Worry about his playing time if you wish.

Complain about Indiana not putting enough pieces around him. Fret about him playing damn near 40 minutes a night. Pick apart his body language to try and discern whether his back or his thumb or the relentless physical stress of life in the lane in the Big Ten is wearing him down.

But above all else, appreciate Trayce Jackson-Davis, if your loyalties bend toward Indiana basketball. Enjoy him now. You don’t see his like very often at all.

“I couldn’t be more proud of a young man, than Trayce today,” IU coach Mike Woodson said Saturday, on the afternoon his senior captain overtook him for fifth all-time in scoring in IU history.

For Jackson-Davis, long stretches of Saturday’s 71-68 win over Illinois looked like graft. Ranked No. 15 nationally, the Hoosiers had to claw out their victory, and their All-American forward had to fight for his numbers. The Illini opted to double-team him this time, after he torched them in Champaign last month, and their trap kept him frustrated.

And he still scored a game-high 26 points.

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Illinois (17-9, 8-7) was the more active team. The more aggressive team. Playing on the road without Terrence Shannon and therefore without any real pressure, Brad Underwood’s team had an upset on its mind Saturday. Illinois got to 50-50 balls faster, cleared offensive boards for fun at times and back-footed an IU team that began the day, apparently, the top No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament selection committee’s early bracket.

The Illini brought the energy, the intensity and the fight, leading for more than 26 of 40 possible minutes.

And Jackson-Davis still ran the game defensively, posting 12 rebounds and five blocks, both of them also game-highs.

The individual numbers don’t really matter, in that there are so many of them now that any single one fades into insignificance.

This was Jackson-Davis’ fourth-career game of at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Per ESPN, no other player in the Big Ten has more than one such game in the past 25 years, and the conference as a whole has only seen five of them from someone other than the Indiana senior.

That is the now, when Jackson-Davis is, nightly, making dominance look casual. He became this week the first player in Big Ten history to win at least a share of the conference’s player-of-the-week award in four consecutive weeks. Having given up the ghost on stopping his scoring or rebounding, teams have built entire gameplans around which hand he’s allowed to pass with.

Jackson-Davis is dominating the Big Ten at a level this building hasn’t seen in at least a generation. Not since the coach that recruited Woodson to Bloomington sat in the chair Woodson now occupies.

The Hoosiers (19-8, 10-6) probably won’t win a share of the conference title, but Jackson-Davis has made the race for league player of the year a two-horse affair. Averaging in Saturday’s totals, he officially nosed ahead of Edey in both points and, by the slimmest of margins, rebounds per Big Ten game. Edey remains first in those games to Jackson-Davis’ fifth in field goal percentage, but Jackson-Davis is also top-10 in the league in conference play in assists per game, at 4.4. He is by orders of magnitude the Big Ten’s most-influential defender as well.

For the first time this winter, whatever their teams’ results, Jackson-Davis has a legitimate argument as Big Ten MVP over Edey.

And he does not care.

“I'm going to probably look at it more during the end of the year, but I'm just glad that we found a way to get that one,” he said. “They were fighting. They were clawing. They were without one of their best players, and those dudes showed a lot of heart here. Just finding a way down the stretch and getting stops when we needed to, it was big for us.”

Here, we arrive at the discussion of history. Of legacy. Of the things that, as Jackson-Davis has flattened one milestone after another, he has said repeatedly are the only achievements he cares about.

Jackson-Davis passed his coach Saturday, moving into fifth all-time in program history in scoring. He should catch A.J. Guyton by this time next week. He’s already Indiana’s career blocks leader, and Alan Henderson’s career rebounding record is on pace to fall before the end of the regular season.

Circumstances will always play a role. There have been other Hoosiers in the past 25 years who, had they played four full seasons in college, might have entered into some of these discussions themselves.

But there’s no page in the history book for hypotheticals. Trayce Jackson-Davis is doing these things here, now, his dominance driving the Hoosiers toward their most-promising March in a decade.

Time is also running out.

As far back as the preseason, in a sit-down interview with IndyStar, Jackson-Davis confirmed his intention to make this his final season of college basketball.

“Going through Hoosier Hysteria, seeing all the fans one last time, you’ve got to take it all in because I know this is the last time I’ll be participating in this,” Jackson-Davis told IndyStar in October. “Going through first practice, same thing. Being on the sideline for the first game, it puts it into reality. … you can’t take things for granted when you get on the court, or when you’re on the court, even if it’s a walkthrough, shootaround, whatever.”

To his tremendous credit, Jackson-Davis hasn’t. He has made the absolute most of this last college season, breaking records and hauling his team into Final Four consideration.

“I've been sitting in that spot (on IU’s career scoring list) for a long time, and for him to surpass it, man, it's special,” Woodson said. “It just means the body of work that he's put in over the years, but he can't stop there.

“It's just points. He's still staring at two things, a Big Ten title and a national title, and that's where I'm trying to get him.”

The NCAA tournament starts two days short of a month from Saturday, and Indiana will be considered a contender to win it because of the All-American big man who discovered this season he has no ceiling if he doesn’t want one.

Players like this do not come along often. They seem like they do, but record books remain static for a reason.

Woodson’s right: Nobody’s passed him on that scoring list in a long time. Even a conservative projection for Indiana’s remaining schedule would see Jackson-Davis pass Don Schlundt to finish third all-time in program history in that category. Schlundt has been top-three or better since 1955.

Where Jackson-Davis’ journey ends this spring, more in his hands than ever, is still not entirely up to him. He knows a portion of his legacy will always be defined by team achievement, the last box to tick in an otherwise glittering Indiana career. He’ll worry about the rest when this chapter in his story is finished.

He’s here, now, doing things so few men have done before him so regularly they seem routine. But they are not. You could watch IU basketball for another 50 years and not see a player achieve like this again.

Enjoy him, for his is rarer company than you realize, and there’s not long left.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.
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