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Mike Woodson Scoffs at Thought Zach Edey, Trayce Jackson-Davis Aren't NBA Players

By Tom Brew,


Purdue center Zach Edey and Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis are two of the best players in college basketball, but there are some folks who think they can't play in the NBA someday. Indiana coach Mike Woodson thinks that's foolish.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Purdue center Zach Edey is the runaway candidate for national player of the year. He's been terrific during the No. 1-ranked Boilermakers' 22-1 start to the season and, at 7-foot-4, has been practically unguardable.

Since returning from a back injury a month ago, Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis has been even better. He did things in January — a stat line of 23 points, 14-plus  rebounds and three-plus blocked shots — that only Hall of Famers Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan have accomplished in the past 25 years.

Rarified air, to be sure.

But there are still people out there — a lot of them actually — who say that neither one of them has an NBA future. Sure, there might be a few pieces missing in their game and the NBA is a different animal, but it seems so far-fetched if you've watched these two stars play all year.

This much we know. When Indiana and Purdue play Saturday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, there will be a lot of NBA scouts in the building. Indiana coach Mike Woodson, who spent 40 years in the NBA, was asked about their pro potential. He too scoffs at the idea that these guys aren't pro players.

"Without a doubt (they are NBA players,'' Woodson said. Thursday morning. "I look at our guy, at Trayce (Jackson-Davis) and, I mean, he rebounds, he blocks shots, he defends, he finishes at the rim, he runs the floor, he passes the ball. I mean, as a coach, you can use all those things on a basketball floor. That's what's amazing to me.

"And then here is big Edey. Edey gets up and down the floor. He might not be as mobile as some bigs, but he's mobile enough to do what he's doing. And he's a load down low. To say that big men can't play in the NBA or don't have (the skills), that's crazy. I mean, somebody's going to take a shot at both of these players, and they going to be happy as hell when they get them. I don't know what Edey does, but I've got to think he's a good young man and he works hard. Our guy does the same thing.''
Purdue center Zach Edey (15) tries to put up a shot over Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) during last year's game at Mackey Arena (USA Today Sports)

CBS basketball analyst Seth Davis talked about both players and their teams earlier this week. He's been impressed with what Jackson-Davis has done in the past month — and what Edey has done all year in his first full season as a starter.

"Here's the thing about Zach Edey. He's really tall, he's 7-foot-4. You can double-team him, triple-team him, do whatever you want. But no one who's playing against him is going to be 7-foot-4. At a certain point you have to hope he has a bad game, or the people he's passing the ball to have a bad game.

"Hope is not much of a strategy. The only bad thing I can say about Zach Edey right now is that he has completely taken the fun out of the national player of the year race. There's no suspense, there's no conversation, there's no debate. There's nothing to talk about. It's been a completely dominant performance — and from a guy who was not even a top-300 recruit coming out of high school.''

Purdue is off to a 22-1 start, the best in school history, with just a home loss to Rutgers. Edey has been great, and the Boilermakers can surround him with a ton of great shooters. They on unbeaten on the road heading to Bloomington on Saturday.

Davis thinks Purdue is a deserving No. 1, but he also knows what it's like to play at Assembly Hall. It's a hostile environment to be sure, and Indiana — which snapped a nine-game losing streak to Purdue last year in Assembly Hall — has been playing very well at home lately, beating Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State by double digits.

"Going on the road in this conference is tough,'' Davis said. "Purdue is the best team in the country, but Indiana is a team that I'm really watching right now. Tracye Jackson-Davis has taken his game to another level, which I didn't even think was possible. And it's been interesting in dealing with these injury issues that Jalen Hood-Schifino has gotten a lot more reps and Race Thompson is back. Xavier Johnson might be coming back and Malik Reneau has had a few good games recently.

"They are Final Four good.''

We all know how great Jackson-Davis has been in the past month ever since his back started feeling better. And in Indiana's nine games in January, he averaged 23.0 points, 14.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.

How good is that? Epic good.

It's only happened twice before in college basketball in the past 25 years, by Hall of Famers Shaquille O'Neal (LSU) and Tim Duncan (Wake Forest).

For Edey, he split time at center last year with Trevion Williams, and averaged about 19 minutes per game. He averaged 14.4 points per game, and 7.2 rebounds.

This year, he's averaging 31.3 minutes game and has been on the floor for practically every minute that's mattered. He's averaging 22.0 points and 13.0 rebounds per game, along with 2.1 blocks and 1.4 assists a game. He's had 18 double-doubles in 23 games.

It is interesting, though, that he's had only 30 assists and 50 blocked shots all year. Jackson-Davis, for instance, has 66 assists — more than double his Purdue counterpart — and 58 blocks, a handful more than Edey.

The biggest growth in Jackson-Davis' game during his two years with Mike Woodson is that he's become a better passer and a much better shot-blocker. There are always new things to learn at the next level, and skill levels do expand. Woodson sees both Edey and Jackson-Davis being able to take that next step.

"You're getting quality people. You just got to teach them the NBA game once they get at that level because it is another jump,'' Woodson said. "It's faster. You've got to figure out things once you get at that level. But I think both of them are capable of playing in the league, and they deserve to be in the NBA because they're good enough.''

Related stories on Indiana-Purdue

  • WOODSON ON PURDUE RIVALRY: Mike Woodson has been around the Indiana-Purdue rivalry as a high school recruit, college athlete and now as the Hoosiers' coach. Ahead of Saturday's game, Woodson shared stories and thoughts on the history of the rivalry. CLICK HERE
  • INDIANA INJURY UPDATE: Ahead of Indiana's matchup with No. 1 Purdue on Saturday at Assembly Hall, coach Mike Woodson commented on the injury status of Xavier Johnson, Jordan Geronimo and Logan Duncomb. CLICK HERE
  • JACK'S TAKE, THREE CONCERNS FOR IU VS. PURDUE: Indiana lost at Maryland on Tuesday and Purdue protected home court on Wednesday against Penn State, setting up Saturday's rivalry game at Assembly Hall. I was at Mackey Arena on Wednesday, and here are some quick thoughts and concerns for the Hoosiers prior to their matchup against the nation's No. 1 team. CLICK HERE
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