From the first night of Center Grove’s boys basketball season, the growth in Trayce Jackson-Davis’ game was obvious to all who watched him.
The 6-foot-9 Trojan star vaulted himself into the state’s top tier of players as a junior, opening with a 33-point outburst at Franklin in mid-November and closing with 24 in a losing effort against New Albany in a Class 4A regional final.
With Big Ten coaches making regular trips to watch him play, Jackson-Davis rarely disappointed — and after leading Center Grove to a 20-win season that included county and sectional titles, he is the Daily Journal’s 2017-18 Player of the Year.
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Primarily a low-post player in his first two varsity seasons, Jackson-Davis worked hard to improve his ballhandling skills and expand his offensive repertoire. As a result, his scoring average jumped from 12.4 points his sophomore year all the way up to 21.9 this winter, and he nearly doubled his assist total, which jumped from 38 to 70.
In addition to being more productive, Jackson-Davis also was more explosive, throwing down eight dunks in a regional semifinal victory against Evansville North and posterizing 7-foot-2 Hamilton Southeastern center Mabor Majak on lob from teammate Nate McLain back in December at Southport.
Center Grove coach Zach Hahn said he noticed a significant jump in Jackson-Davis’ confidence level.
“He’s a much different player,” Hahn said. “He calls for the ball and he’s more aggressive on the block. He’s able to handle the ball in transition a little bit and make the fast break a little easier for us at times. But more than anything, I’d say his mindset and his physicality, and then just aggressiveness, has really changed.”
Jackson-Davis still dominated down low on the defensive end, grabbing 9.3 rebounds per game and blocking 112 shots. But he said that the evolution of his overall game this season was just the next step in the progression that Hahn has been laying out for him since he started high school.
Freshman year, the focus was on rebounding and converting layups. As a sophomore, Jackson-Davis worked to master working with his back to the basket. This year, Hahn expected more from him facing the basket and working off the dribble.
Next year, if all continues to go according to plan, we’ll see the total package — including expanded range on his jump shot and a free throw percentage of 80 percent or more.
Working on the latter is a priority for Jackson-Davis, who hit from the line at a 61 percent clip this season.
“I’d probably score four or five more points per game,” he said. “Because I get to the line a lot; I just need to concentrate on hitting the free throw. Some games I’d go 14 for 15, and some games I’d go 2 for 10.”
An even more improved Jackson-Davis is a scary prospect considering all of the attention he’s already attracting. He’s ranked among the country’s top 30 2019 prospects by every major recruiting service, and he is considered one of the front-runners, along with Fort Wayne North’s Keion Brooks, for next year’s Indiana Mr. Basketball award.
Jackson-Davis and Brooks are friends and will be teammates this summer on the Spiece Indy Heat AAU team, but don’t expect either of them to just concede that honor to the other.
“Mr. Basketball is probably one of my biggest goals for next year,” Jackson-Davis said. “We’re good friends, but it’s still going to be competitive.”
Both players will be huge draws next season, both for Indiana high school basketball fans and college coaches. Jackson-Davis has offers in hand from nearly every Big Ten program as well as the likes of Clemson, UCLA and Xavier, and he’ll likely have almost unlimited options after another summer on the national circuit.
Despite the attention and the recruiting hype, Jackson-Davis has tried to stay grounded — something that his parents and Hahn have certainly helped with. Still, he admits that it all can get a bit surreal at times.
“I remember two or three years ago, I’d watch Michigan State and coach Izzo on TV, and now he’s calling me,” Jackson-Davis said. “It’s pretty weird to think about.”
It’s all gotten progressively less weird with time, though, and as Jackson-Davis continues to grow more comfortable with the hoopla and more confident in his game, the on-court results only figure to get more and more spectacular.
The final act should be a sight to behold.
The 2017-18 All-Johnson County team for boys basketball:
Christian Cox, Edinburgh senior: Steered an impressive turnaround for the Lancers, who went from six wins to 17 and claimed a sectional title for the first time since 2012. … Led the team with 15.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Jared DeHart, Indian Creek senior: All-WIC pick did it all for the Braves, pouring in 24 points a night and also averaging 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.1 steals. … Chosen to play in North-South Indiana All-Star Classic. … Signed to play at Bethel College.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Center Grove junior: Established himself as one of the top players in the state and one of the best juniors in the country while leading the Trojans to county and sectional titles. … Averaged 21.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.1 blocked shots and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 67 percent from the field.
Brennan Neal, Whiteland junior: Carried a large share of the Warriors’ offensive load, scoring a team-best 17.9 points per game. … Shot 84 percent from the foul line and was second on the team in assists, steals and blocked shots.
Cory Richards, Franklin junior: Averaged 14.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals to help lead Grizzly Cubs to a share of Mid-State Conference title as well as county and sectional finals. … Shot 56 percent from the field and 84 percent on free throws.
Parker Bryant, Edinburgh; Bryce Burton, Edinburgh; Drew Byerly, Franklin; Carter Crowe, Whiteland; Justin Fosskuhl, Edinburgh; Coltan Henderson, Edinburgh; Riley Higdon, Whiteland; Braydon Kincaid, Greenwood; Joey Klaasen, Center Grove; Isaiah Lacey, Indian Creek; Champ McCorkle, GCA; Nate McLain, Center Grove; Payton Modlin, GCA; Eric Moenkhaus, Greenwood; Kegan Owen, GCA; Spencer Piercefield, Center Grove; Zach Pugh, Indian Creek; Max Raker, Greenwood; Jeffrey Reynolds, Greenwood; Reece Thomson, Franklin