The Longhorns landed back in Austin last March, and players and coaches went their separate ways. The NCAA Tournament raged on, yet Texas found itself one and done thanks to Paul Jesperson.
Even to this day, almost eight months later, it’s still mind-boggling. How in the heck did he drain that game-winning, half-court prayer?
Eric Davis Jr. wanted to punch something, someone, anything inside an Oklahoma City locker room. Northern Iowa ended his freshman year with a bang. It was stunning and surreal, a cold swish of reality. You really want to win at this level? It’s going to take more, so much more, than Davis ever dreamed before.
“I literally laid down in my room and just stared at my ceiling,” said Davis, who claims he’s still never seen the game film and doesn’t want to. “There were so many thoughts running through my head. I’ve never experienced anything like that.
“I do everything right, trust the process, being connected, helping my teammates and doing everything right. And to still not be rewarded? That was probably one of the hardest adversities in basketball I’ve ever experienced.”
After the first week, Davis said Texas coach Shaka Smart essentially ordered an end to the pity party. “Coach had to hit me up,” the sophomore said. “Yo, E, man. You’ve got to move on. I understand you’re sad. Let that be motivation.”
Davis can finally let go Friday when his sophomore season begins against Incarnate Word at the Erwin Center.
“My message to him and those other guys was it’s time to move forward,” Smart said. “We can’t dwell on that very long. We’ve got to make sure we appreciate the opportunity that’s ahead of us.”
Davis, a 6-2 guard from Saginaw, Mich., had a respectable freshman debut. He was fifth on the team in scoring (7.4) and shot 38 percent from 3-point range. He scored 16 points in the upset win over North Carolina and had four consecutive double-digit games in Big 12 play. But he also disappeared at various points down the closing stretch.
There were times that Davis admits he, along with fellow newcomers Kerwin Roach and Tevin Mack, deferred to the veterans. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. Javan Felix, Isaiah Taylor and others had played a lot of basketball. They were the ones on the floor at crunch time, and they were the ones who faced reporters afterward to explain what went right or wrong.
But Felix, Taylor and four others are long gone. The Longhorns are devoid of a clear-cut, go-to player at winning time. There is no established alpha dog. Davis, who no doubt has a killer instinct, wants to be exactly that.
“Whatever my specific role is, that’s what I need to do,” Davis said. “If it’s guarding somebody, OK, then I need to be the alpha and guard him. If I need to be the alpha in scoring, then I’ll score. If I need to be the best teammate and cheer, then I’ll be a leader in that. So I look at it like that. Whatever role I need to do that night, I need to dominate that role. That’s going to eventually lead to our success.
“I know that’s my role, and it’s going to be hard. When I lose, I’m ready for the heat.”
This has to be music to Smart’s ears. Given their close relationship, Smart would probably like nothing more than to anoint Davis as an undisputed leader. But there’s something holding the coach back.
Davis needs to get in better shape, Smart said. If that means listening to strength coach Daniel Roose’s country music choices in the weight room, so be it. He needs to play better defense. Davis admitted that last season, “I wasn’t the best defender because I didn’t know how to guard.”
Davis certainly needs to expand his comfort zone. According to Shot Analytics, the vast majority of Davis’ 3-point shots came from the right wing and the corner. That was far and away his most successful spot on the floor. He didn’t take a ton of shots anywhere else, other than the left corner without consistent success.
He needs to be a better teammate. With four key freshmen joining the fold, there are plenty of questions to be answered. Somehow Davis must show an even bigger buy-in, if that’s possible.
“He definitely has it in him,” Smart said. “I think sometimes what happens with guys when you have a very good freshman year, there’s an assumption that I’m going to take this huge jump. But it doesn’t just happen on its own.”
Davis says he’s eager and open for all of it — the joys, the criticism, the coaching and the growth that comes in the second year, when players have a better understanding of what’s expected.
“Coach got my back. Everybody’s got my back,” Davis said. “This is what I wanted. This is what I signed up for. I wanted to be in this position where the team revolves around me. I’m a leader. I think I’m definitely ready this year.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.