It’s not very often an athlete of any sport gets to return where they started out. By committing to Michigan, Tray Jackson is one of the lucky few who will — a fact the graduate transfer is not taking for granted.
“It means everything,” Jackson said on Brian Boesch’s Defend the Block podcast. “I’ve always been a fan of the Michigan Wolverines. I always wanted to come here. Having a chance to play in front of family and friends, it’s just a dream come true, honestly.
“When I’m working out, I always think about it — ‘It came back full circle. You’re blessed to be in this position to come show what you can really do at one of the best schools in the country.’ So it definitely hit me.”
Born and raised in southeast Michigan, Jackson earned his stripes as a four-star recruit playing for Detroit Western International. In the 2018-19 prep season, Jackson began his journey by trekking almost 1,000 miles from his hometown in order to play for Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas. From there, he made a single year stop in Columbia to play for the Missouri Tigers, before finding a home away from home in New Jersey as part of the Seton Hall Pirates.
Now in his final year of college basketball, Jackson is capping it all off with a stint for his hometown team.
“Out of all the schools that hit me, I kind of knew where I wanted to be,” Jackson said. “I knew who I want to go to war for. Honestly, everything they told me were things that I’ve always wanted to do in my career: Playing the position they had envisioned for me. That was pretty much what it was like.”
The stark wording Jackson chose is no hyperbole — after a second-round NIT exit last season and considerable attrition in the roster from both the transfer portal and the NBA Draft, Juwan Howard enters 2023 facing the biggest battle of his coaching career.
Ironically, the struggle is something that attracted Jackson to Michigan.
“That was one of the conversations me and coach Howard had when he was recruiting me, like ‘yo, we both got things to prove here,’” Jackson said. “Of course y’all made it to high levels before, but doing it again and again is something that I know coach Howard is looking for as a coach. For me as a player, I’m looking to come in and play with a chip on my shoulder.
“That’s definitely one of the big things that drew me toward Michigan. I’m used to being an underdog, and from the looks of it, we have a lot of doubters, too. So being able to come out there with this opportunity, I know that we have the pieces to be successful.”