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Column: Indiana needs to appreciate Trayce Jackson-Davis while he’s here

Jackson-Davis came back to cement his legacy, start the appreciation now.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Archie Miller era was a bleak time for Indiana fans.

The Hoosiers made the NCAA Tournament zero times during his tenure in Bloomington outside of the “What if” 2019-20 season. There wasn’t shooting and the hated Purdue Boilermakers began a winning streak that was only snapped by a last ditch effort from Lafayette native Rob Phinisee during Mike Woodson’s first year in town.

The bright spots were few and grew dimmer each year. There was Romeo Langford, Indiana’s most hyped recruit in decades, who left town as a one-and-done without a postseason because of the team around him. There was a puzzling tendency of beating Tom Izzo’s Michigan state on a fairly regular basis.

Everything left at some point, except for Trayce Jackson-Davis.

A 4-star Indiana kid who dominated at Center Grove High School just south of Indianapolis, Jackson-Davis was a priority for a staff that had promised just a year prior to lock down recruiting the state. He was joined by Cathedral’s Armaan Franklin, who’d later transfer to Virginia after Woodson was hired.

Jackson-Davis nearly declared for the NBA Draft following Miller’s firing, but a meeting with Woodson convinced he and his family to remain in Bloomington.

Despite the growing disfunction swirling around him through his first two years, Jackson-Davis remained a consistent dominant presence from the moment he stepped foot onto the court as a freshman. If Indiana needed points, fans knew who was getting the ball.

Guys like that don’t just grow on trees.

He may have returned to Indiana in part to cement his legacy as an all-time Hoosiers great, but the years to come would be far too late for Indiana’s program and fans to appreciate all he’s done here. That needs to start immediately.

It was he, Jackson-Davis, who stepped up and held a players-only meeting as the season began to spiral ahead of a matchup with Wisconsin. The Hoosiers ended up winning, 63-45. An 80-65 road thumping of Illinois soon followed.

Indiana accomplished each without starting point guard Xavier Johnson or Race Thompson, with Jackson-Davis serving as a reliable force on and off the court as their replacements found their way.

The leadership extended to the court, where he put opposing bigs in a blender with various moves and dunks in the post. There was nothing the likes of Steven Crowl or Dain Dainja could do to contain him.

When North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis was asked why Indiana was able to pile on with points in the paint during the Hoosiers’ win over the Tar Heels, he had a simple answer:

“Indiana has Trayce Jackson-Davis.”

He’s had opportunities to leave. Go off to the NBA and develop there or enter the transfer portal and do so elsewhere. Given how things have gone during his time here, you wouldn’t be able to blame him.

But he didn’t. Indiana matters to him, and he matters just as much to it.

Jackson-Davis is performing Herculean tasks on and off the court for the Hoosiers. Appreciating that years from now, long after he’s gone, would be a disservice to both him and yourself.

Greatness deserves to be appreciated in its time.