MARTINSVILLE – The dunk I’m thinking of, Trayce Jackson-Davis has the ball at the top of the key. He’s 20 feet from the rim, with a defender in his way, and Jackson-Davis stares the guy down and makes his move.
Jackson-Davis, the IU recruit from Center Grove, takes one dribble and picks it up near the foul line. He turns his back, disappears around the defender with a high-speed spin, and reappears 10 feet from the basket. Now he’s soaring toward the rim, and keep in mind, this is not a small person moving like that. He’s every inch of 6-9.
In the crowd Saturday at Martinsville High, home to the 31st annual North/South Indiana All-Star Classic, people are starting to laugh.
Well, they’re laughing some more — laughing again, I should say — because at this point, it’s comical. Earlier, Jackson-Davis had the ball in transition, bearing down on the rim as a defender closed from the opposite side, and the defender made a business decision and kept on running. He’d been watching Jackson-Davis, same as everyone else in the arena. That guy knew what was coming, and in the crowd there was audible laughter as Jackson-Davis was left alone for his dunk.
And now it’s happening again. Jackson-Davis has done that 360-degree spin to get from the 3-point arc to the key in one dribble, and his defender is gone — not because he made that choice, but because he had no chance — and a ripple of laughter is coming from the crowd as Jackson-Davis throws down a vicious dunk.
Afterward, after he has scored 32 points, most of them on dunks, missing just three shots by my count — and rebounding all three misses for easy put-backs — I’m asking Jackson-Davis if he’s surprised it was so easy. I mean, this is Indiana. We grow basketball here, as the Indiana Pacers say. It shouldn’t be this easy.
Jackson-Davis makes a face. Basically, albeit unintentionally, I’ve just asked him to put down his competition on the North team. A lot of those guys are his friends, which is why I’m not naming the Division I-bound player — headed to a school in Indiana — who made the business decision to get out of the way as Jackson-Davis ascended toward the rim. I’m not naming the small-college signee he turned into a statue on that spinning dunk.
The Indiana high school basketball fraternity is real and it is strong, and Jackson-Davis isn’t about to answer my question the way it was asked. To which I say: Good for him. This is what he said, by the way, when I asked him if he was surprised at how easy it was for him to score 32 points against some of the best high school players in Indiana.
“Just having fun playing with the guys, trying not to be selfish,” Jackson-Davis was telling me afterward. “But by the end of the game, I was trying to show I’m a really good player.”
Well, he showed that. The question is: What, exactly, did he show? How good is he? These are important questions — well, they will yield important answers — for an IU fan base concerned about the future. The Hoosiers lost their best two players from their NIT team of 2018-19, senior Juwan Morgan to graduation and freshman Romeo Langford to the 2019 NBA draft.
As I was telling Jackson-Davis after he scored 32 points Saturday on 14-for-17 shooting, IU has a “help wanted” sign posted outside Assembly Hall. Are you prepared to apply?
“Most definitely,” he says, but then he tells me what he needs to do first.
“I have to tune up a few things — my handles and a little bit of my shot,” he says. “But other than that, I think I’m ready to go. Hit the weight room hard and be ready to go next season.”
Which brings me back to that question I asked earlier, not of Jackson-Davis, but about him: What, exactly, did he show? How good is he?
For those answers, I went to two college coaches. No, they weren’t in the Martinsville gym on Saturday. They couldn’t be, according to the NCAA recruiting calendar. But these guys, both with deep Midwest roots, know Jackson-Davis’ game. They’ve seen him over the years, one a high-level assistant, another a mid-major head coach. I called each of them after Saturday’s all-star game. To be as transparent as possible, this is what I told them:
“I have no idea what I just watched. It was an all-star game, and Trayce was the biggest player on the court, with the quickness of the guards. But he dunked on everything and everyone. Will that translate to the Big Ten?”
One of them, the mid-major head coach, laughed out loud. Then he said:
“Oh, it’ll translate!” the guy said, and I used that exclamation point for a reason, the reason being he was shouting. “I saw him as a (Center Grove) freshman, when he really couldn’t score yet, and the first time I saw him I said: ‘Well, we can forget about getting him.’ Because of what you’re saying: He just moves so well (for his size). I think it’ll translate well. It won’t happen his first season, but he’ll be one of the better players in the Big Ten eventually, and he’ll get some NBA talk.”
The high-level assistant was a bit more restrained, pointing out that other schools in the Big Ten will have guys as big as Jackson-Davis, as strong, as quick.