Junior Year Could Be Big For Mike Davis

The Illinois basketball team needs its upperclassmen to play a leading role to have a successful season. The four freshmen will provide a big boost in energy and athleticism, but a group of five juniors must carry the brunt of the load. Power forward Mike Davis improved tremendously last season, but more is needed from him.

Illinois forward Mike Davis averaged nearly 12 points a game last year, and he was second in Big 10 rebounding and first counting nonconference games. Illini coach Bruce Weber wants more from him.

For instance, Davis has a silky smooth shot that is accurate to 17 feet, but he has been a catch and shoot athlete up to now. Creating his own shots would help him improve his scoring and put more pressure on defenses. Once he healed from a broken foot and a tonsillectomy, Davis has worked hard on his ball handling.

"It's coming along great. I talked to Coach, and he said I've got to beat guys off the dribble. I'm quick enough and fast enough to beat guys off the dribble in the Big 10, so that's what I'm trying to do.

"I've been working on my two dribble pull-up and stuff like that. I have a couple more weapons this year. I don't just have to shoot stand-still jump shots."

Despite missing much of the summer, Davis has found time to work out on his own.

"I've been having my best workouts of the fall. I got in the gym and put up some shots, and I feel good now."

And his conditioning has been a surprise, even to him.

"Actually, I think I broke some records during conditioning. I'll just continue to run to get better and keep pushing myself to the limit so I'll be in shape when the season starts."

The slender 6'-9" Davis has long arms and excellent leaping ability, allowing him to grab numerous defensive rebounds. But he admits he has saved his energy on the offensive end in the past by not attacking the glass. Weber wants him to improve his offensive rebounding. Perhaps he can get some tipins and putbacks.

"I want to use rebounds as a weapon this year. (Mike) Tisdale's been working hard on rebounds too. Brandon Paul's an excellent rebounder both offensive and defensive. So I think he's gonna help me with rebounds too."

The Alexandria, Virginia, native has matured since his freshman season, but he still isn't ready to take over the team on a full-time basis. He does make suggestions to his teammates in practice, so leadership is beginning to emerge. But when asked about team leaders, he deferred to seniors Dominique Keller and Bubba Chisholm.

"Dominique is a leader, a vocal leader on the court. Bubba's a leader too. He's been helping guys on the bench for a year now, and he's helped the freshmen too. He sees things on the court other people don't see sometimes."

Davis is excited to see what the freshman can do to boost the team.

"The freshmen can definitely help right away. I know when I was a freshman, I was nowhere near as advanced as they are right now. So they can play right away. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do this year."

He admits his time on campus has flown by. As an upperclassman, he is beginning to realize the urgency of making every day, every game count.

"It went fast, so fast. I'm a junior already, and it's like my freshman year. Two more years left to get out of here. I want to go out on top. I want to win."

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