Illinois coach Bruce Weber had his difficulties early on in recruiting. So perhaps it was fitting that he should have some good fortune as well. Needing to upgrade his team's athleticism, he took a chance with late-signing Mike Davis out of Arlington, Virginia, and he is happy he did.
"We were so fortunate to get him. It seems our league doesn't get that 6'-9" forward. We might get the strong 6'-8" guy, the bulky guy. When we got him, that was the main reason. He gives us length, athleticism, shot-blocking. He can go get a rebound, and then he has a nice touch."
With all his natural ability, Mike Davis hasn't always understood the importance of working hard every day in practice. If he should embrace that work ethic, the sky is the limit according to Weber.
"How good he can be will be determined by him. Does he want to put extra time in the gym? In his sophomore year, he led the league in rebounding. He has a very high ceiling. Mike now has a taste of success. Will he get in the gym, will he work on his triple threat, work on his ball handling, work on his pull-up jumper? If he does that, he's got a lot of natural ability that will allow him to get better and better."
Davis and fellow sophomore Demetri McCamey have the biggest upside on the team, but both have struggled with practice intensity. Little by little, Weber says they are beginning to understand.
"I think they both understand it now. Last year, they didn't understand they had to play at another level. Now, it's getting them to do it on a daily basis, which will transform into doing it every game. Part is our job, but sooner or later they have to click it in and get that fire going in their belly on a daily basis. They now know where we're coming from."
Weber was pleased with Davis' reaction after a recent game at Ohio State.
"One of the greatest compliments, he just gets CBS Player Of The Game, so he comes in late to the jubilant, excited lockerroom. Everybody saying, 'Way to go Mike, boom, boom.' And the one comment he has was, 'I still can't guard anybody.' So I think he's starting to understand."
Mike was forced to defend a perimeter player at Ohio State, a difficult assignment for a long-legged inside player.
"Coach was making fun of me," Davis remembered. "I really have respect for Chester, Trent and all those guys now. It's tough. I'm 6'-9" trying to guard little (William) Buford who's a really good player, probably a lottery pick next year. It was fun, and I tried my best. He scored a lot of points, but I'm trying to get better at that."
Davis struggled during the middle of the season, in part due to tonsilitis and some facial nerve paralysis that came on secondarily. He will need a tonsilectomy eventually, but for now he is back to normal.
"I feel better. I was sick for awhile with Bell's Palsy and tonsilitis. But Al (Martindale) has done a good job of taking care of me, and I'm back to 100%. So hopefully I can end the season with a big bang."
Nothing makes Weber more upset than seeing someone as talented as Davis take plays off in practice. But he is not the only coach on staff who wants Mike to push himself to reach his maximum potential.
"Coach (Wayne) McClain is tough on me. Coach (Jay) Price is too, and Coach (Jerrance) Howard. Coach Howard knows my talents and says I can possibly play for money some day. Coach McClain is tough on everybody, me and Demetri especially because we're the most talented. He says don't rest on defense for offense."
The coaches are not the first to work with Mike as his father is always offering advice. Davis appreciates the assistance.
"They just want my best interests at heart. They have my back at all times. Coach is always tough, wanting us to practice hard. It all starts in practice."
Many young men ignore parental advice, assuming they know more than their parents. But Mike has learned to pay attention to his dad.
"My dad has been telling me that life is hard work. He's straight up. He won't beat around the bush. I'm willing to listen to what he says. I understand it better now, talking about being a man, an adult. It wasn't always that way. I kind of wanted to test the waters. I didn't think he knew anything. But now I understand that he knows a lot."
Davis knows what he needs to work on in the offseason, and he's developing the ambition to put in the time.
"I want to extend my range to three. And I want to work on my ball handling, get the rebound and push the ball myself up the court. Also drive step, pull up and drive to the basket. You know, someone like Earl Clark and Dujuan Summers. They're pretty good players."
Mike Davis and his dad put their heads together prior to this season and arrived at goals of 12 points and 8 rebounds a game. Mike ended up averaging 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds. If his goals are higher next year, don't be surprised if he achieves them.