Column: Indiana recruit Trayce Jackson-Davis is going to be special. I saw it with my own eyes

Photo: Robert Scheer/IndyStar

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.

Trayce Jackson-Davis was dunking on everyone at the North/South Indiana All Star Classic on Saturday in Martinsville. (Photo: Robert Scheer/IndyStar)

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?

Trayce Jackson-Davis, signs autographs and visits with fans during the North South Indiana All Star Classic basketball games for high school senior girls and boys, Martinsville, Saturday, April 6, 2019. (Photo: Robert Scheer/IndyStar)

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.

Yes, I said, but how many Big Ten teams have one guy who are all three of those things?

“That’s a fair point,” the assistant told me. “Look, he’s going to be a good player. Will he dominate as a freshman? No. But he’s going to be really good.”

Well, sure. Jackson-Davis was a McDonald’s All American and Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year, both of which makes him the frontrunner for IndyStar Mr. Basketball, presented by the Indiana Pacers. He averaged 21.8 points and 9.5 rebounds for Center Grove, and his biggest game came in the regional championship when he nearly outscored Bloomington South by himself, pouring in 40 points in a 64-41 victory.

Those are the facts, and the numbers. But only the visuals do Jackson-Davis’ game justice. The most striking part of his game Saturday is his ability to go a long way with very few (if any) dribbles. On his first touch he took a pass at least 25 feet from the rim, and was at the basket in two dribbles for a smooth left-handed finish. His next touch, he caught the ball at the elbow, maybe 17 feet from the rim. He took one dribble and took off.

Trayce Jackson-Davis throws down one of several dunks he made during the North/South Indiana All Star Classic basketball games for senior girls and boys, Martinsville, Saturday. (Photo: Robert Scheer/IndyStar)

Seventeen feet later, he was dunking on somebody.

This is sort of what he’d done earlier in the day, when this 6-9 pogo stick jumped over another human being for the slam that won the pregame dunk contest. Pretty soon the game starts, and Jackson-Davis keeps dunking. He was sealing off defenders and leaping to catch lobs and immediately springing back into the air for dunks. He was drop-stepping to the rim for dunks. One time he caught a pass on the wing, took one dribble and split two North defenders to get to the rim.

And dunked on both of them.

Trayce Jackson-Davis has a 7-2 wingspan and a 37-inch vertical. He needs to tune up a few things — his handles and a little bit of his shot — and he needs to hit the weight room hard. But he’ll be ready to go next season.

Oh my. He’ll be ready to go.

Find Star columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at

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