College basketball, like any sport, undergoes generational changes. The introduction of the 3-point line. The expansion of the NCAA Tournament. Conferences going defunct. Conferences starting anew. An influx of Division II teams making the jump to DI. Big Dance play-in games. NILs. The transfer portal.
Every time, practically, something new comes to the game, it’s scorned, like Grandpa Simpson at the cloud. But only for a while. We get used to the differences. Mostly we embrace them in time. Those last two listed in the above paragraph, however, are still so foreign to everyone, they’re still scoffed. But they have altered the game in such a manner that it may never be the same.
Basketball teams can go from zero to hero in no time flat. The days of toiling in anonymity are gone. Coaches, especially at the more powerful conferences, can win faster and go deeper into the Dance than they normally would have been able to do in an earlier era. Because of it, they’re expected to reload, re-tool, perhaps. Not rebuild.
Just as we were all getting used to the notion of one-and-dones as freshmen, now one-and-dones have arrived via the portal. Rare is the basketball player who stays four (or five, in this COVID era) years at one location in a power conference. Rare is the type of player we all thought Devo Davis would be.
Davonte Davis and Arkansas Basketball
Davis, Arkansas’ junior guard from Jacksonville, recently announced he would enter the NBA Draft. The shock was palpable throughout the Natural State. Hog fans expected to lose Nick Smith Jr., even after his ultimately disappointing one-and-only season in Fayetteville. They also wouldn’t be surprised if freshmen Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh left after just one year, too. Ricky Council? The high-riser could exit and it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
But Davis? He is Arkansas to lots of folks. Heck, I penned a column stating he could go down as Arkansas’ most iconic four-year player this millennium. And, well, he still might. Davis isn’t anywhere to be seen in most NBA draft projections. The smart money is that he’s back in Bud Walton Arena come November, playing in front of the adoring masses.
That isn’t to say he *should* be and, really, it’s not a bet you should make, anyway.
No one knows whether he should be or not except the man they call Devo. During an era in which every single word, practically, a player utters is vetted beforehand and reasons for everything from injuries to leave-of-absences are kept under wraps, it’s more difficult than ever to know what goes on inside a program and behind the scenes. Heck, some fans were angry enough earlier in the season when Davis left the team for a few days to take care of a personal matter. The program never said what the issue was, just that Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman was supporting his player.
The point is, who knows anymore. Just like the days when it was easy to spectate, armchair-coach and say “so-and-so should come back and work on their game to give himself a chance at going higher next year” are gone, so are any hints that any of us on the outside of the program have any idea what’s going through a player’s head when they make a decision. Social media achieves self-promotion. Locked-down media departments achieve a lack of program knowledge. That isn’t a complaint, really, though I personally miss the days of freer access. It’s just another tally-mark on the side of the ledger of progress, I suppose.
Assessing the Decision
From a sheer basketball perspective, Davis doesn’t seem like a player who will get a major look at making an NBA roster next year. He isn’t a pure point guard. He isn’t spectacular at getting to the rim. His shot, though much improved, isn’t yet at an NBA level. His defense absolutely is, but only against 1s and 2s. At 6-foot-3, he’s probably limited to defending ball-handlers and the occasional spot-up shooter type, at which point it’s a bit of a waste to have him guarding such a player, anyway.
But returning to Arkansas would allow him to do what, exactly, when it comes to improving his game? Barring a four-inch growth spurt or another four or five percent increase in his 3-point shooting ability, his game is what his game is. In another era (see the connection?), Davis would have made a solid reserve combo-guard with a mid-range game. The NBA simply doesn’t have those kinds of players anymore. Not really.
All that is assuming the NBA is the end-all, be-all of declaring for the NBA draft. Every player who declares wants that golden ticket. It’s the best league in the world and it isn’t even close. At all. Last year, by April 23, 82 players had declared for the NBA draft. Nevermind all the seniors who were out of eligibility. The NBA draft will have 58 players selected this year. The odds are long for everyone except the absolute elite. Most of the rest of the players end up playing overseas or in the G League. Mason Jones was the best player on Arkansas’ team in 2020 and put up more than 20 points a game while earning SEC Player of the Year honors.. He plays professional basketball in Mexico.
Perhaps that’s the path Davis desires. Guys can make decent money and play basketball for a living for a good 15 or so years outside the NBA. Or, perhaps, he’s just testing the waters, a la Moses Kingsley after his junior year back in the mid 2010s. Davis could return to Fayetteville, join forces with Trevon Brazile, Layden Blocker and Baye Fall – and maybe even Jordan Walsh – and Arkansas would almost certainly be a borderline Top 25 team yet again heading into the season.
Those are Arkansas basketball fans’ wishes, though. And while they may be Davonte Davis’, too, for now, he’s giving himself options because in this day and age, who knows what may change next.
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