Before he went home to Ohio for a good chunk of the summer, Traevon Jackson took a trip up to the University of Wisconsin men's basketball offices last May for a one-on-one session with associate head coach Greg Gard.
That it was Jackson going down a checklist of what he needed to work on — and not Gard doing the talking — was a positive sign that the guard was about to embark on a productive stretch away from the eyes of the coaching staff.
"He's a hungry kid," Gard said. "He wants to be good."
Gard believes that drive is part the result of Jackson's bloodlines — his father, Jim Jackson, was a star at Ohio State and played 14 seasons in the NBA — and part the result of the younger Jackson learning some tough lessons during his freshman season at UW.
Jackson appeared in 17 games overall, averaging 5.4 minutes and 1.1 points, but played just 13 minutes in the Big Ten Conference season. Afterward, Jackson came to the conclusion that in addition to improving his skill set, he needed to become quicker and more explosive if he was going to play a major role for the Badgers as a sophomore.
"Talking about it is one thing," Gard said, "but it appears so far that he's really made a commitment to changing his body."
Jackson was one of the standouts in Sunday's Red-White scrimmage at the Kohl Center. He finished with 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting and had three assists and no turnovers in 39 minutes.
A day later, Jackson found himself on coach Bo Ryan's bad side after some shaky decision-making during Monday's practice.
Jackson isn't the first young player to struggle with consistency, and he won't be the last. He'll get a chance to redeem himself during Tuesday's practice and Wednesday's exhibition game against UW-Oshkosh at the Kohl Center.
"It's typical for young guys to go through the peaks and valleys," Gard said. "You just try to minimize the valleys and maximize the peaks as much as you can."
Jackson figures to have an expanded role this season after the loss of junior point guard Josh Gasser, who sustained a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 27.
Not only will Jackson be counted on for some minutes at point guard — redshirt freshman George Marshall and junior Ben Brust are also expected to see time there — but he's the most advanced of the three on the defensive end.
Gasser was relentless as a chaser who fought through picks to keep with the opposing team's best perimeter player. It earned him a spot on the Big Ten's All-Defensive team last season.
Jackson says he'd gladly accept the role of defensive stopper if asked.
"You've got to take it personal when someone scores on you, and I try to do that every day," Jackson said. "I don't like getting scored on."
Jackson's competitive juices were flowing during the offseason workouts he had near his home in Columbus, Ohio.
He was a part of a group of four players that worked under personal trainer Anthony Rhodman. One of Jackson's training partners was Michigan guard Trey Burke, who was sensational as a freshman last season.
Jackson said he'd arrive at the gym each day at 5 a.m. and wouldn't leave until 3 p.m.
"We had some really good battles," he said, "and I think that prepared me a lot for this year."
One of the areas that appears the most improved is Jackson's shot. He hit a variety of pull-up jumpers from mid-range during Sunday's scrimmage.
"I just think it's more consistent," said Jackson, who attempted only 19 shots last season, making seven. "I've felt like I always had a nice pull-up; it just always got overlooked. … I haven't gotten that many opportunities. When I got comfortable and I just got that confidence, it helped a lot."
Jackson's work with Rhodman caused him to miss the first two in a series of summer practices UW was allowed during the eight-week summer session. That wasn't ideal, but it was something Jackson felt he needed to do to make himself a better player.
"It definitely paid off," Jackson said. "I told coach Gard that I really think personally this was the best situation for me, and it helped out a lot."
Jackson returned to Madison with a renewed confidence in his game. Even before Gasser was injured, Jackson was intent on becoming a significant contributor this season.
"Mentally, you can't come into this just expecting to back somebody up all the time, unless you want to be that type of player," Jackson said. "I'm just not that type of player."
The next step for Jackson is removing that bad taste from a freshman season in which he did more watching than playing.
"It's a totally new year for me," he said.