He was unhappy. Davis was a four-year starter at Southaven (Miss.) High School, where he averaged 22.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.8 blocks as a senior. He was the man, the star. Riding the bench was a foreign concept.
But at Ole Miss, his role, and his perspective, changed significantly. He played only sparingly, though he appeared in 20 games in total.
“I wanted to leave,” he said. “I wanted to just go home.”
Davis had no shortage of options out of high school. He was a standout football player, too. Some colleges even attempted to sway him to switch sports after an impressive final season, one in which he posted 62 catches for 1,062 yards and turned heads at the Alabama - Mississippi All-Star Game with his highlight catches and eye-popping athleticism. He could have gone pretty much anywhere. He got close, actually. A few schools were even offering him the chance to try both basketball and football at the next level.
But Ole Miss won him over. Assistant Bill Armstrong played a major role in his recruitment, and it was Armstrong who convinced him to stay when his future as a Rebel was in doubt. Rather than succumb to his frustrations and bolt, Davis stayed. He worked.
And as a sophomore, his career is taking off.
“I believe that goes through every freshman that comes to college and doesn’t play,” Davis said. “When you come from high school, you’re the man. You’re the star, and you come here and you see the crowd here. When we opened up SEC play at The Pavilion, it was crazy. I was just like, ‘Man I wanna play.’ One time on the bench I slick wanted to cry. You want to play so bad because you know you can help the team, but you just have to wait your turn sometimes.
“I just let it fuel my fire and I told myself, ‘This is not going to happen anymore. I’m not going to ride this bench anymore. I know I can play in the SEC.’ This past offseason was the first time I just focused on basketball year-round and it helped me a lot. My game just went another level up this past offseason.”
Davis came off the bench in the first seven games of 2016. However, after Ole Miss’ ugly, 15-point loss to Middle Tennessee at home, head coach Andy Kennedy shook things up. Davis, among others, was inserted into the starting lineup.
He’s since made four straight starts, three of which he’s scored double-digit points. He’s averaging 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds as a starter. Overall, he’s third on the team with 13.0 points per game, and he’s tied for second in rebounds with 5.5 per game. He notched his first double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds) in a close loss at Virginia Tech, and he followed four days later with 16 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Murray State.
“He’s an athlete,” Kennedy said. “We’ve tried to get him downhill in everything he does, be in attack mode, attack, mode. He still settles a bit, but he’s now making 3s at a decent rate. He can make hard plays for us. We need more of those guys and the guys that are capable of doing it like him.”
“I just want to come in and help my team as much as I can,” Davis said. “Get on the offensive glass, defensive glass, rebound. I don’t look to score like that, I just want to win. People don’t realize this, when Duke and Kansas are winning, everybody gets looks. There’s a couple of people that are going to make money on those teams, but if you’re winning everybody’s gonna get looked at. It’s hard to explain, but who doesn’t want to win?”
While Davis’ game will, in many ways, be dependent on his athleticism, energy and ability to attack the rim, the 6-foot-4 guard is starting to consistently flash his potential as an all-around scorer, especially from the 3-point line. He opened the year 5 of 22 from beyond the arc. He was 8 of 18 in his last three games.
But he’s also learning when to take risks and when not to — when to try and wow the crowd and when to simply get what’s there. In a forgettable moment, Davis attempted a 360 dunk midway through the second half of a tied game with Memphis. He was fouled on the play and made both free throws, but it was yet another teachable moment. Yes, Ole Miss went on to win the game, but Davis could have cost his team.
It’s all a part of the process. Davis is learning as he goes. His work, and his resolve to keep going, got him here. He could have left. He had every reason to. But he’s in it now, and he’s determined to prove he belongs. So, live and learn.
“I actually met with (Kennedy) on Monday morning,” Davis said. “We weren’t supposed to meet, I just came in. I beat him to his office; it was like 7 or 7:15, and we just talked about it. He was like, ‘What if we would’ve lost by one?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I would’ve been hurt.’ Just that feeling. He was like, ‘Sometimes I forget that you are a sophomore.’ He was saying I was young, but I feel like even though I’m a sophomore, I feel like an upperclassman.”
What a difference a year makes.