It wasn’t that Trayce Jackson-Davis was being lazy.
That’s not how he sees it anyway.
Playing in former head coach Archie Miller’s defensive system, if Jackson-Davis was on the help side and someone attacked the rim, he wasn’t supposed to cross the lane and try to block the shot.
“In the other defense (Miller’s) I was more of an anchor and I needed to block out my guys,” Jackson-Davis said.
Head coach Mike Woodson has a different view of how Jackson-Davis should be utilized as a help side defender in his more aggressive scheme. Basically, the new IU head coach sees a 6-foot-9 athlete with an elite ability to quickly get off his feet like he’s on a pogo stick. And he wants Jackson-Davis to use those gifts to be his enforcer, and challenge any shot in the paint, no matter how much ground he has to cover to get there.
Jackson-Davis was told right away what was expected as Woodson emphasized defensive principles in the early days of his tenure. But the engrained instinct to find his man and block out was difficult to shake. And the All-American big man heard about. Woodson wanted to Jackson-Davis to patrol the paint, and he wanted it done with enthusiasm.
“He caught a lot of hell from me at the beginning from me,” Woodson said on his radio show last week. “I told him he had to hurry-up his giddyup. He was like he was in quicksand.
“When I watched film of the team the last few years, if there was a baseline drive and he was on the back side he would just stand and watch the ball being laid in, and that’s a no-no when you’re talking about trying to build your defense across the back side of the ball.”
Over time it clicked with Jackson-Davis, and the in game results have been dramatic so far. After averaging 1.8 blocks per game as a freshman, and 1.6 as sophomore, the Greenwood, Ind. product is averaging 4.0 blocks per game through the first four contests. His 13.5 percent block rate is the 26th best in the country.
“He’s plugging the hole,” Woodson said. “And now (Director of Basketball Administration) Armond Hill has come up with a name called the launching pad, where if somebody is beat baseline and he’s the low guy, he’s gotta meet them at the launching pad, and that’s where he’s getting a lot of his blocks and he’s just causing havoc.”
One of Jackson-Davis’ teammates who was an opponent the last two years has noticed the difference.
“Coach Woody has pushed him to do more defensively and be an anchor down in the paint protect the rim and you know he’s definitely done that,” current IU and former Northwestern forward Miller Kopp said.
Kopp isn’t the only former Big Ten foe who is with Jackson-Davis this year. New assistant coach Dane Fife had a scout’s eye on him from the Michigan State sideline the last two years, and he has been asking for more from a rebounding standpoint. In much the same vein as Woodson, Fife has pushed him to cover more ground.
“Rebounding out of my area as coach Fife would say, he said last year I didn’t do that very often,” Jackson-Davis.
Again, the early signs are Jackson-Davis is getting that done too. His per-40 minute rebounding total (12.4) is the best of his career, as is his 26.7 percent defensive rebounding rate according to KenPom.
Jackson-Davis likely couldn’t pull off the added blocks or rebounds if he didn’t focus on his conditioning in the offseason. He came into the season claiming he was in much better cardiovascular shape than last year, and that seems obvious as he is often leading the way in the transition game as well.
While the offseason questions about Jackson-Davis from the outside centered around his perimeter shot and right hand, he was hearing more from Woodson about his level of effort. And he has been putting in the work to get his body ready to meet those demands.
“Coach Woodson got here and he said ‘no you need to be able to take it to this notch’ and so that’s what I’ve been trying to do every day,” Jackson-Davis said. Obviously just trying to be in the gym working on my game and just not just during practice and just staying after practice but going in the mornings before like three or four hours before practice or late at night and just trying to be in the gym multiple times a day and not just once or twice so that’s really big for me and then I think that it’s reaping the benefits. I think I’m in better shape, better conditioning obviously and I think I’m playing at a pretty high level on defense as well.”
So far, Woodson is pleased with Jackson-Davis’ new found giddyup, and the boost it is giving his teammates.
“He’s just leading the charge and the guys around him are following his lead as a captain,” Woodson said.
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