Family, faith and free throws: Davis never embraced it all
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – A bottomless peach basket was nailed to
the top of the barn door. A surface of rocks and dust made up a players’
paradise. The sound of the rooster began the day, one which didn’t end until
the ball rattled through the wooden net. Sundays were spent in church, with
the state’s second religion (basketball) preached up and down the man-made
roads, in local taverns and at family functions.
The Hoosier State has significantly industrialized since the days of 10-cent
soda pop, thigh-high shorts and roller-skate burger joints. Yet, the culture
of Indiana and its basketball program has remained the same: A passion that
transcends sport, built upon the ideals of hard work, faith and family.
It’s a passion that made Gene Hackman famous, Bob Knight’s sweater a fashion
trend and led to Mike Davis’ uncomfortable resignation.
Last Thursday’s press conference reaffirmed such a belief. The head coaching
job at Indiana was never about being an “Indiana man,” but rather about
understanding the culture of Hoosier basketball and thriving in it. Knight
embraced it, while Davis constantly questioned it.
Knight spent 29 years in Bloomington, won 662 games and three national
championships. He had a temper, abused furniture and at times may have stepped
over the proverbial player-coach line. But, he understood the state’s people
and their relationship was captured in a photo album filled with triumph.
When Knight was fired on September 10, 2000, a crowd estimated at 6,000 bid
him farewell with tears of sadness. Davis never allowed those same people the
same chance to embrace him.
Following a loss to Kentucky during his first season, Davis murmured he wasn’t
“the right man for the job.” It was then that he knew something the Indiana
faithful eventually figured out.
Even after a magical run to the NCAA championship game in 2002, rumors swirled
about Davis’ unhappiness. Instead of garnering praise about how he had placed
HIS program back on the national map, Davis dodged questions about his desire
to use the season’s success as a springboard for a NBA job.
Despite a trio of 20-plus win seasons and a Final Four trip in his first three
campaigns, the marriage never seemed amicable.
Then, once the fortunes of the program turned south, so did Davis’ opportunity
at acceptance. Indiana icon Scott May’s son, Sean, a Bloomington High School
standout, chose North Carolina over the Hoosiers in a fierce recruiting
battle. The domino effect continued with back-to-back sub-par seasons
beginning in 2003-04 and as the club started its February swoon for the third
straight year, time was up.
The whispers grew louder with each loss, reaching a crescendo last Wednesday
night at Penn State. The team suffered its fourth straight defeat, 71-68, and
while Davis’ job security flashed before his eyes over 40 minutes in Happy
Valley, several media reports broke a story that the coach had agreed to
So, instead of talking about the defining moment of the game, Davis withstood
a post-game barrage about the defining moment that led to his departure.
The following afternoon, he announced the inevitable with a fitting sigh of
“This is a great day for Indiana basketball,” said Davis. “Trust me. It is.”
Ironically, Davis’ last words were his most poignant. For Indiana basketball
embodies hard work, faith and family, and during his six seasons at the helm
those three words seemed to have left the bulletin board.
His personality constantly shifted between aloof and melodramatic. He
misrepresented the fans’ passion as a vendetta to run him out of town. He was
the coach of a nationally-beloved program, yet never seemed to love it
Of course, Davis cared about his players and wanted to succeed. And in all
honesty, he was fairly successful. Some may even argue that if D.J. White
hadn’t gone down with an injury again this season, his frontline presence,
along with Marco Killingsworth, would have sent the Hoosiers back to the NCAA
Yet, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Davis and Indiana just never
mixed. So, as forlorn Hoosier fans, boosters, alumni and current Indiana high
school hoop stars transition toward the future, a line from the very recent
past rings all so true.
This is a great day for Indiana basketball. Trust me. It is.