The Return of Devo Davis Means Somebody Will Be Unexpectedly Left Out in the Cold

Davonte Davis, Devo Davis, Arkansas basketball, NBA Draft
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

In an era of one-and-dones and the transfer portal, Davonte Davis is a unicorn in college basketball — especially under Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman.

After dipping his toes into the NBA Draft waters, the Jacksonville native affectionately known as Devo, announced on Wednesday he’d return to the Razorbacks for his senior year. It came hours before the deadline to withdraw and maintain collegiate eligibility.

Now, Davis will become the first, and quite possibly only, four-year player under Musselman.

Not including the two incoming freshmen for next year’s team, Musselman has signed 11 high school recruits at Arkansas. Five of them entered the NBA Draft within two years and four others transferred out within the same time-frame.

The only one who even has a chance to join Davis as a four-year player at Arkansas is Joseph Pinion, and he’s just entering his sophomore year. Those who stay in a single program through senior year are a dying breed in college basketball, with the one-and-done rule providing the first blow and the transfer portal driving it to near extinction in recent years.

The Razorbacks haven’t had a four-year player since Adrio Bailey, whose career ended in 2019-20, Musselman’s first season at the helm. Before him, it was Anton Beard and Trey Thompson, who finished playing in 2017-18.

Devo Davis Returning to Arkansas

Adding a fourth year to his resume will only further cement Davonte Davis’ legacy with his home state school.

Originally set to leave the state and play at Oklahoma State, he flipped to Arkansas as part of Eric Musselman’s first signing class, which also featured Moses Moody and Jaylin Williams.

It proved to be a great decision, as he has since etched his place in UA history by leading the Razorbacks to a pair of Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in his first three years. Prior to his arrival, Arkansas hadn’t made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 1996.

Davis’ role has evolved during his time in Fayetteville and last year, Arkansas leaned on him as a scorer in addition to a lockdown defender who landed on the SEC All-Defensive Team.

After averaging 8.4 points as a part-time starter over his first two seasons, Davis increased his scoring output to 10.9 points per game as a junior. His 3-point percentage also increased from 25.3% as a freshman and sophomore to 34.6% this past season.

Those numbers don’t even tell the whole story. With expected leading scorer Nick Smith Jr. sidelined with an injury, Davis played at an All-SEC level for a stretch during conference play when Arkansas needed it most, averaging 16.4 points over nine games. He also shot 41.2% from 3-point range over the final 21 games after shooting just 17.9% over the first 14 games.

What ensured Davis will always be remembered, though, is his play in the NCAA Tournament. It was his last-second shot that sent Arkansas to the Elite Eight in 2021, when he was just a freshman. Then this season, he had 25 points and 8 rebounds in the upset win over Kansas — after which he gave a tearful interview on CBS.

In 11 career NCAA Tournament games, Davis has scored 132 points, which ranks ninth in school history, according to HogStats. The names he trails – some of whom he’ll have a chance to pass next season – reads like a “who’s who” of Arkansas basketball: Corliss Williamson, Todd Day, Scotty Thurman, Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller, Sidney Moncrief, Clint McDaniel and Lenzie Howell.

Despite his success with the Razorbacks, Davis was not viewed as an NBA Draft prospect following the season, but NCAA and NBA rules enabled him to at least test the waters and go through some workouts, including one with the Milwaukee Bucks.

After receiving feedback from scouts, he has opted to pull his name out of the draft and return for a senior season with Arkansas basketball.

Next season, Davis will almost certainly join the 1,000-point club, as he needs just 59. If he duplicates his scoring total from last season, Davis would crack the top-20 on the UA’s all-time scoring list.

More importantly, he also has a chance to become just the second Arkansas basketball player to be part of four Sweet 16 teams. The first to do it was Reggie Merritt, a Little Rock Central product who played sparingly during his career.

What it Means for Arkansas Basketball

Similar to last year, Davonte Davis will provide a much-needed veteran presence on a team filled with newcomers.

After being one of only two returning players (with Kamani Johnson being the other) on the 2022-23 team, he’ll have more help this time around. Jalen Graham, Trevon Brazile, Joseph Pinion and Makhi Mitchell will each be entering their second year in the Arkansas basketball program.

Still, it can’t be understated what Davis will provide for the incoming transfers and true freshmen. Prior to last season, Eric Musselman leaned heavily on him to get the newcomers to buy in to what he was trying to do.

“We were doing a defensive drill and Devo was kind of coaching everybody from the side, and it was just a shell defense,” Musselman said last July. “I kind of stopped everything and said, ‘Do you guys understand why Devo is on the sideline barking out instructions?’ Everybody had their own thoughts and reasons.

“I said, ‘No, it’s because he knows what it’s like to get to an Elite Eight. That’s why he’s doing that. And he knows that this is a necessary piece to be a successful team. Some of you other guys don’t know that, that haven’t won at a high level.’”

Another thing to consider about Davis returning to the Razorbacks is that he’ll likely take up a starting spot and minutes that would have otherwise been distributed to other guards.

He’ll be one of four potential point guards on the 2023-24 team, as Arkansas landed Keyon Menifield Jr. from Washington and El Ellis from Louisville out of the transfer portal and signed top-35 prospect Layden Blocker from the high school ranks.

The Razorbacks have another open scholarship to fill with Jordan Walsh staying in the NBA Draft, but that is expected to be filled with a forward/big man.

The backcourt is likely complete with the four point guards, plus Pinion, Khalif Battle from Temple and Tramon Mark from Houston. Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davenport, even at 6-foot-7, could also play on the wing.

All eight of those players are capable of contributing or even starting, depending on what kind of lineup is being deployed on any given night, but Musselman’s history shows that he’ll eventually narrow his rotation to a core of eight or so total players. Expect that to frontcourt pieces like Trevon Brazile, Makhi Mitchell and, if he takes another step defensively, Jalen Graham. This isn’t even factoring in another portal addition, such as North Dakota State’s Grant Nelson, whom Arkansas is actively pursuing.

That means someone who was expecting to play a lot will likely spend more time on the bench this season because of Davonte Davis’ return. In recent seasons, it’s been true freshmen like Derrian Ford, Barry Dunning and Chance Moore who have often been left on the bench in favor of more seasoned vets.

Check out the highlights from Davonte Davis’ 25-point performance against Kansas:


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