Following Indiana's 83-64 win over Texas Southern on Monday night, Terry Hutchens and I got a chance to spend some time with Texas Southern coach Mike Davis at the team hotel.
Now, I'll admit: I hadn't met Davis until Monday night. I'm a 23-year-old kid (I turn 24 on Thursday) that was just starting to follow Indiana basketball when Davis was leading the program. I was just 11 years old when he took the Hoosiers to the national championship game in 2002 and, right or wrong, I have strong positive memories of Davis.
The most vivid sports memories I have, in any sport, were created when Davis was roaming the sideline at Assembly Hall. I sat on our couch at home with my dad the night Indiana came back to upset top-seeded Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, and I have watched replays of the game 5-10 times since then.
I didn't watch IU much during the Bob Knight days. I was too young to remember much, and I know there are a lot of young people around my age that are the same way. For us, it's not hard to understand why Davis would come back to Bloomington. He took a team to the national title game, the only one Indiana has reached during my lifetime.
But I recognize that fans older than me have a much different view of that time period, and I certainly understand it. You loved Knight, everything that he stood for and everything he accomplished at Indiana. And while there were highs during Davis' tenure, there were certainly many lows, too. His resignation in 2006 was best for all parties involved.
Still, though, there are a couple of facts that cannot be ignored:
1. Mike Davis is a classy man who did a classy thing by returning to Assembly Hall on Monday night.
2. Davis should be remembered historically for the things he accomplished at Indiana, not for the things he failed to accomplish.
Let me touch on No. 1 first. The vast majority of coaches, and human beings in general, would never have considered coming back to IU after how things ended for Davis. Make no mistake: Davis was ridiculed. He was booed. He faced things that no coach should ever have to face.
Davis was hurt by it all. He wanted so badly to win and be loved by Hoosier Nation. He was a head coach for the first time in his career and he didn't have the experience or the mental stamina to deal with all the negative attention. It was too much.
But he came back. After all the hate, the ridicule, the negativity, Davis returned to the very place that caused all of it, and he did so with a big smile on his face. That is class in one of its highest forms.
Davis had every reason to resent Indiana fans. He had every right to stay away from Bloomington forever. But through everything, Davis chose to remember only all the good things from his time at IU. He loves IU just as much now as he did in 2002. Bloomington is, and always has been, his home.
"I never think of the rocky times. Truly, I don't," Davis told us at his hotel Monday night. "It's kind of like when my mom passed. I only think of all the good memories with her, nothing about when she whooped me or got on me for screwing up. When I reminisce about Indiana, I think, 'Wow, what a ride.'
"I understood, they just wanted to win the games. They want you to put a product on the court that they can be proud of. So I don't focus on anything negative. At all."
I sat with Davis at his team hotel and told him about my memories from the 2002 season. I told him about the time spent with my dad, about my appreciation for the way his teams played together, about everything he and his guys did that made me fall in love with the game of basketball.
All the while, Davis stood and listened, smiling as I touched on specific moments from his time at Indiana. He was so genuine, so thankful for the opportunities he had then and the ones he has now.
As journalists, we're asked to remain non-biased and unemotional, but I couldn't help but be touched by the words Davis said and the expressions he made. Hoosier Nation should feel honored to have him in its family.
Davis wasn't Knight. Nobody could be. He didn't build a consistent winner, and he wasn't the long-term answer for Indiana.
But Davis also accomplished things not many coaches could have. In a time of peril, Davis united the team and refused to let the program fall. He then took that united team to the national championship game and helped to forever change the basketball perspective of young people like me that will never forget the 2002 run.
Remember Davis for what he did and not what he didn't do. And remember this: After everything he went through, Davis came back. The program and the University means that much to him. Davis will always be a Hoosier, and you should be proud to have him.