Not that he doesn’t have plenty to work on.
Davis played in 20 games as a freshman, averaging 1.8 points, 0.9 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.4 steals and 6.6 minutes per game. He was relegated to the bench most games, which didn’t sit well with the ever-competitive Davis, a former standout basketball and football player at Southaven (Miss.) High School.
He admittedly considered transferring.
But a year later, and with his team set to open SEC tournament play Thursday night against Missouri at 8:30 p.m. CT, Davis is an emerging star for the 19-12 Rebels. His style of offense — a relentless style of attacking the rim, thunderous dunks and eye-popping feats of athleticism — has quickly earned him fan-favorite status, not to mention more responsibility from his head coach, Andy Kennedy.
Well, for however long he’s on the floor.
“It’s just hard for him to catch a rhythm with the way he’s in and out of games based on fouls,” Kennedy said.
Davis and senior forward Sebastian Saiz are tied with a team-high 103 personal fouls. Davis has committed four or more in nine of his last 17 games, and he’s fouled out in three.
He played only 20 minutes in the Rebels’ regular-season-ending win over South Carolina on Saturday, scoring just three points on 1 of 5 shooting. He fouled out midway through the second half, his final infraction a technical after he said something unruly to a nearby official following a foul he disagreed with.
Kennedy said Davis learning how to control his emotions is the next step in his development.
“Using his hands and running his mouth,” Kennedy said. “You can’t do the things he did, especially in a game of that magnitude. He picks up a fourth, and then, OK, you’re playing with your hands. Maybe you’re a bit late. Bang-bang play, you’re called and then you say something. Usually officials — and we had good officials calling that game — aren’t going to ‘T’ you up unless you just really get out of line. There’s a dialogue that occurs. He’s got to learn to grow up and take on more of a mentality that he’s very important to this team and this program. We need him on the floor and we need him doing things the right way and doing those things consistently.”
The 6-foot-4, 201-pound Davis played 27 minutes or more in eight of the aforementioned 17-game stretch. He scored less than 18 points only twice in those games. He totaled a career-high 33 points in a come-from-behind win over LSU on 13 of 21 shooting.
In short, there are few, if any, in the SEC more dynamic when Davis is at the top of his game. The thing is, his talents are wasted when he’s sidelined — a self-inflicted frustration for Davis, who is fully aware he controls the amount of minutes he plays.
“I’m so aggressive,” he said. “I’ve got a football mentality in me. I’m so aggressive, I’ll pick up a tic-tac foul. It’s a different sport, you know? And whenever I’m not having a good offensive game, I get frustrated and start picking up fouls and getting mad at myself.
“It’s a mindset thing. I’ve just got to get all of that out of my mind before the game. Think of something else. I’m going to have to figure it out.”
Davis said his family has chimed in with advice on how to curb his penchant for fouling.
“They’ve just told me, ‘Stop fouling.’ It’s easier said than done,” Davis said. “Sometimes, I don’t know; you get caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time and you get your hand out there. It’s one of those things.
“My dad, he talks to me all the time about self control and controlling my emotions. I can control that. I can’t say anything to the refs. My dad’s always good with things like that.”
Kennedy said Davis can get in his own head, his fouls bleeding into poor decision-making on the offensive end. Still, Davis is averaging 17.1 points a game over his last seven games. He’s increased his scoring this season 12.2 points per game over last year, which is the largest increase in scoring for any player in the SEC.
Kennedy has consistently hammered home to Davis that he is his own worst enemy. His ceiling is limitless, and he’s flashed, time and again, next-level potential. But he has to play. Kennedy said the hope is Davis will settle in early against Missouri and return to his game-changing ways.
“I think he’s pressing a little bit,” Kennedy said. “My hope is he can get some looks early and settle in. I think he’s really putting some pressure on himself, and he’s compounding that by having to be on the bench with fouls.”