Trayce Jackson-Davis

Jackson-Davis Feels Extra Juice from Hometown Workout

For Trayce Jackson-Davis, Monday's pre-draft workout meant just a little more.

The 23-year-old big man worked out for four NBA teams out west prior to Monday's visit to the Ascension St. Vincent Center. He's got several more workouts lined up with teams on the East Coast in the coming days.

But Indiana is home.

It's where Jackson-Davis grew up, starring at Center Grove before heading down to Bloomington for the past four years, where he enjoyed one of the most decorated careers in the storied history of Indiana University basketball.

It's also where his father, Dale Davis, spent parts of 10 seasons playing for the Pacers, a central figure on the beloved teams in the 1990s. Davis was an All-Star in 2000, when he played for Larry Bird and helped the Pacers reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

On Monday, Bird -- now a consultant -- was watching as Davis' son worked out for the Blue & Gold.

"It's great," Jackson-Davis said of the opportunity to work out for his hometown team. "Obviously my dad played here, but at the same time, being in Indy, having a lot of family and friends in Indy, you've kind of got a little juice, a little more motivation than usual. You want to just try to prove yourself. I felt like I did that today. I felt like I played at a very high level. I'm very proud of myself for my efforts."

Indiana Pacers Pre-Draft Workouts: Trayce Jackson-Davis One-on-One Interview (June 5, 2023)

Jackson-Davis worked out in Utah on Friday, then flew back home that night. He spent the weekend at home with his family before returning to a downtown hotel on Sunday night to get ready for Monday's workout. A large media contingent flooded the Ascension St. Vincent Center to speak with the former IU star.

Over his four years in Bloomington, Jackson-Davis set school records for rebounds (1,143) and blocks (270) and finished third on the school's all-time scoring list with 2,258 points. He was a consensus first-team All-American as a senior, when he averaged 20.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.9 blocks while shooting 58.1 percent from the field.

Now, Jackson-Davis is hoping to make the transition to the pros. His collegiate numbers speak for themselves, but he will need to make adjustments moving from college to the NBA. While he was a dominant post player in college, big men are asked to play different roles in the modern pro game, which is built more around athleticism and floor-spacing.

Physically, Jackson-Davis seems to have the tools needed to fit right in at the next level. He measured at over 6-8 without shoes and 240 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine last week. He has a 7-1 wingspan, which should help some of his shot-blocking prowess carry over to the NBA, and a 36.5-inch vertical.

Jackson-Davis used that physical stature to overwhelm the opposition in college. He attempted 6.5 free throws a game over his four years in college and was able to both outmuscle opponents on the block or blow by them from the top of the key.

He'll face bigger and stronger competition in the NBA, but should be able to hold his own. Jackson-Davis said Monday that he feels confident that he could play both the power forward and center positions in the pro game.

Jackson-Davis also grew significantly over his time in Bloomington. He was always able to score and rebound, but he blossomed into a playmaker over his time with the Hoosiers, particularly this past season, when he increased his assists from 1.9 per game as a junior to 4.0 as a senior.

The million-dollar question surrounding Jackson-Davis is his jump shot. He attempted just three 3-point shots over his four years in college -- all during his junior season -- and didn't make any. Since declaring for the draft, Jackson-Davis has focused heavily on his shooting stroke as he tries to show teams that it's a skill he can develop early in his professional career.

During Monday's workout, Jackson-Davis was matched up with Arizona center Azuolas Tubelis, another All-American big man. Tubelis said Jackson-Davis knocked down a couple 3-pointers "basically in my face" during three-on-three competition.

"I felt like today I shot the ball at a really high clip, especially in the live segments," Jackson-Davis said. "It's just something that I have to keep improving on. I didn't take jump shots -- it wasn't necessarily that I couldn't make them -- I just didn't take them at IU. I felt like I didn't need to.

"But at the next level, you've got stronger, (more) athletic and bigger guys. You're going to have to use all parts of your game. And that's something I'm going to keep working on."

Mock draft projections currently have Jackson-Davis slotted as a late first or early second round pick. The Pacers happen to have three picks right in that range -- the 26th, 29th, and 32nd overall selections.

Where Jackson-Davis ends up going on draft night will depend somewhat on how much a team buys into his potential for growth as a shooter, but he has skills that can make him valuable right away as a big off the bench who can run the floor, catch lobs, and help control the boards. He also has spent the past two years playing for Mike Woodson, a long-time NBA coach, which has helped prepare him for some of the defensive coverages and other things he'll be asked to do at the next level.

Jackson-Davis told the media he can envision himself playing a role like former Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis and Draymond Green, two physical big men who can set screens, rebound, and create for their teammates.

He admitted Monday that he originally thought he would have turned pro after his freshman season, but various circumstances -- including the COVID-19 pandemic -- made him return to Bloomington each of the past three summers. Now, he's finally ready to hear his name called, just like his dad did 32 years ago, when the Pacers selected him with the 32nd overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft.

"It's honestly just a blessing," Jackson-Davis said. "Kind of shows all the hard work that I've put in for the last four, five, six years just trying to get to this point and finally reaping the benefits. Having these guys watch you, it's really cool. It's kind of a full circle of what's happened."

Livingston, Tubelis, Smith Pursuing Pro Dreams

While Jackson-Davis waited four years to enter the draft, three other participants in Monday's workout turned pro after less time in college.

Kentucky forward Chris Livingston decided to put his name in the draft after just one season in college. The 6-6, 220-pound forward averaged 6.3 points and 4.2 assists over 34 games (26 starts) as a 19-year-old, but felt like he was ready for the pros after getting feedback from NBA teams.

Livingston slowly came into his own over his time at Kentucky, having some of his best games late in the season, recording back-to-back double-doubles in wins at Tennessee and against Florida on Feb. 18 and 22.

Kentucky has churned out NBA players under head coach John Calipari, with 45 players drafted since 2010, including at least two every season over that stretch (that list includes current Pacer Isaiah Jackson, who Indiana took with the 22nd pick in 2021). Livingston believed that his year in Lexington helped prepare him for the next level.

"I was pushed like I wanted to be pushed when I committed to Kentucky," he said. "I was held accountable on the offensive side of the ball and defensively. I had to just play hard every possession, especially to earn my keep, earn my role at Kentucky. I think when it comes to the little things, the little details that you need going into the NBA, I think we're really well prepped for it. So that's why we thrive in the NBA."

Indiana Pacers Pre-Draft Workouts: Chris Livingston One-on-One Interview (June 5, 2023)

As for his role at the next level, Livingston hopes that his "high motor" on both ends is enough to entice a team to make him the latest former Wildcat to hear his name called on draft night.

Tubelis turned pro after three standout seasons at Arizona. He blossomed in a lead scoring role last season after the departure of Bennedict Mathurin, averaging 19.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Like Jackson-Davis, Tubelis was more of a traditional post player in college, although he did attempt a small number of 3-pointers, going 10-for-32 from beyond the arc as a junior.

While he was a primary scoring option in college, Tubelis believes he has the type of game to adapt to a different role in the NBA, noting that a lot of his points in college came simply from doing the little things to put himself in the right positions.

"I try to show that I'm an unselfish player," Tubelis said. "I love to run the floor and make easy baskets. I love to rebound, just play hard. And I just love to include my teammates and (help) them make open shots."

Indiana Pacers Pre-Draft Workouts: Azuolas Tubelis One-on-One Interview (June 5, 2023)

The 6-11 center from Lithuania made the decision to come to America for college, a decision that he believes benefitted him significantly as he now auditions for the NBA.

"It helped a lot," Tubelis said. "I'm pretty sure if I would be still in Europe and I would come here, I think it would be harder to adjust to the speed of the game. It's a way faster game, the transition game."

Tubelis is good friends with Mathurin, who was his teammate for two years in Tucson before being drafted by the Pacers last season. The two exchanged some friendly texts on Monday, with Tubelis sending Mathurin pictures of his locker and joking he was going to "take his spot."

"He likes to joke a lot with that deep voice and serious face," Tubelis said of Mathurin. "He's a funny guy. I love him and I'm proud of him."

Smith flirted with entering the draft a year ago, declaring after averaging 16.3 points as a freshman at NC State before ultimately deciding to withdraw his name and return to school.

One thing teams wanted to see Smith do more of as a sophomore was his playmaking. The 6-4 guard played more of the point last season, increasing his assists from 2.1 per game to 4.1 even as his scoring increased to 17.9 points per game.

"I learned that it's a mental thing that goes into play with this stuff, too," Smith said of another lesson he learned from going through the pre-draft process last year. "You've just got to stay mentally strong, keep your body healthy, take care of yourself with treatment. Because teams give it all to you when you're with them."

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Smith is a fast guard who hoisted a ton of shots in college, attempting over eight threes per game both seasons at NC State. He believes that he can create his own shot off the dribble or spot up at the next level and lists players like De'Aaron Fox, Immanuel Quickley, and the Pacers' own Tyrese Haliburton as players he models his game after.

Smith actually met Haliburton last month at the combine and also knows Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard, who is represented by the same agency. Smith and Nembhard worked out together last year in preparation for the draft before Smith elected to return to school. Indiana ultimately selected Nembhard with the 31st overall selection.

Appleby, Akot Follow Long Road to NBA

The last two participants in Monday's workout were Wake Forest guard Tyree Appleby and Western Kentucky wing Emmanuel Akot. Both Appleby and Akot spent six seasons in college and played for three different schools over their collegiate careers.

Appleby, a 6-1 guard, spent his first two seasons at Cleveland State, where he averaged 17.2 points and 5.6 assists as a sophomore. He then transferred to Florida and sat out the 2019-20 season (back when the NCAA still required transfers to sit a year).

After two seasons with the Gators, Appleby elected to transfer once more and competed last season at Wake Forest as a graduate student. The 24-year-old enjoyed his best season of his collegiate career with Demon Deacons, averaging 18.8 points, 6.4 assists, and 1.8 steals and was named the AP ACC Player of the Year.

"Going from the other programs that I came from, showing character, learning from different vets and everything like that, I think that helped lead up to my grad year," Appleby said. "I think I showed true leadership characteristics and everything like that. And I think my team, they followed me, they encouraged me, kept my confidence up all the way through the season."

Appleby made history in his lone season at Wake Forest, becoming the first player ever to lead the ACC in scoring and assists in the same season.

"I didn't know about that until the end of the season, until my coaches told me," Appleby said. "But I thought that was a big-time achievement. I really wasn't in it for the accolades and everything like that. I tried to do everything to help the team win, do whatever I need for my team to win and encourage everybody."

Indiana Pacers Pre-Draft Workouts: Tyree Appleby One-on-One Interview (June 5, 2023)

Akot originally started his college career at Arizona, where he was part of the same freshman class as Deandre Ayton. After two years as a role player, he transferred to Boise State and -- like Appleby -- sat out the 2019-20 season.

The 6-8 Akot averaged 10.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists and shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range in his second season with Boise State in 2021-22, then elected to transfer once more. He originally committed to Memphis in the transfer portal, but changed course before enrolling, opting instead to head to Western Kentucky.

In his final college season, Akot averaged 10 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for the Hilltoppers.

"They were all great," Akot said of his well-traveled college career. "Each school kind of taught me a different lesson. But overall, I just learned how to be a tougher, high-character man."

Akot handles the ball well for a player his size and is a solid shooter, attributes he hope will stand out to teams during the pre-draft process. The 24-year-old Canadian is also hoping to be just the second player from Winnipeg to reach the NBA (Todd MacCulloch, who played for four seasons from 1999-2003, was the first).

"I've got it tatted on me '204 Made,'" Akot said. "Winnipeg is everything for me. Growing up there, they've showed me nothing but love. Representing Winnipeg is something I hold proudly."

Indiana Pacers Pre-Draft Workouts: Emmanuel Akot One-on-One Interview (June 5, 2023)