- Tom Archdeacon Staff Writer
The other morning he had another of those light-bulb moments where he realized just how much his presence, his reach, his impact have expanded for the Dayton Flyers this basketball season.
Darrell Davis was sitting near the basketball offices in the Cronin Center the day after the Flyers’ 73-60 loss to Auburn and the subject of his nickname came up.
His dad is also named Darrell and was called Big D.
So Darrell Jr. became Baby D.
“We been callin’ him Baby D since he was a baby and he just ran with the name as he got older,” said his mom, Tenisha Hunter, who then started to chuckle.
“The only time he didn’t was when I came to school for like a teachers conference. He’d come in and I’d go ‘Hey Baby D,” and he’d say, “Mom! Don’t call me Baby D. I’m at school!’ ”
Now he started to put up some boundaries again.
“I don’t mind the name. I think it’s very clever and unique. But only a certain few can call me that. Like my neighborhood friends and Bucky,” he said in reference to Bucky Bockhorn, the former UD and NBA player who is the longtime color commentator on Flyer radio broadcasts and is fully embraced by the team.
“But that’s about it with Baby D.”
So what about those pack-the-house crowds that cheer him at UD Arena? The Flyer Faithful all know him as Baby D, too.
“Oh yeah,” he said with smiling recalculation. “Flyer fans can call me that. I know I’m Baby D to them, too.”
UD fans have more of a connection to the thin, 6-foot-5 guard with the self-described “nappy ‘fro” hairstyle this season than they did in his first three years here.
He and walk-on Joey Gruden are the lone seniors on a team filled with first-year players. He became the seasoned leader — he’s now played in 105 games — after inheriting the job from veteran players who have graduated since initially taking him under their wings when he first came here from Detroit.
That group of mentors includes Jordan Sibert, who Davis played with his first season here, and especially the four stalwarts who graduated after last season: Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis.
“They handed me the torch,” he said. “And now I hear from Scoochie and Kendall and Cooke a lot. I just heard from Scooch (who is playing professionally in Australia) a couple of days ago. And I talk to Kendall (signed briefly by the Utah Jazz) and Cooke (with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans) a lot also.
“They tell me now that they’re gone I’ve got to be the one to lead our team. They give me pointers on what to do and what to expect. They look to me to see where the season is gonna go, so I’m trying my best to exceed their expectations.”
Going into tonight’s game at Mississippi State, Davis leads the team in scoring (19.7 points per game), minutes per game (36.3), 3-pointers (19), 3-point percentage (50 ) and free-throw shooting (86.2 percent).
Off the floor, he’s still learning with the 3-3 team.
“It’s hard,” he admitted. “It’s hard to start off, but I feel as we go through the season our progressions will get better. We’ve got a young group of guys who are very talented and physically and mentally strong. As the year goes on, I think we’ll erupt as a group.”
Along with helping guide five guys who are playing their first season of college basketball, he must keep an eye on 6-foot-11 freshman Jordan Pierce, who has not gotten to play yet, veteran point guard John Crosby, who has been leap-frogged by freshman Jalen Crutcher, Xeyrius Williams, who is hampered by nagging back problems, and a pair of freshmen — Crutcher and Jordan Davis — who have had moments of success but also lapses.
“I tell Jordan (Pierce) he can’t dwell on that, that his time will come,” Davis said. “Kendall and Kyle didn’t play much as freshmen and I wouldn’t have either, except we ended up with just six other players and I was thrown into the fire.
“With John, I just want to make sure he’s OK and keep him in good spirits. I tell him to keep his head high because he’s a big piece of the puzzle here and we’re gonna need him in games to make big shots and big plays.”
When it comes to basketball leadership and life skills in general, Davis said he draws not only on the older players he learned from here, but the lessons he got growing up in Detroit.
Where it all started
Davis was raised in the Grandmont Rosedale section of Detroit near Prevost Street and Eaton Avenue.
“It was a tough neighborhood and could be dangerous with gangs and people doing stuff out on the street,” he said. “That life is easy to get into but hard to get out of.
“But I found basketball and that kept me from being sucked into the streets like some of my friends. It was a way to do something positive and not get into all the negatives you can find in Detroit.”
He seemed to channel James Naismith himself when he put up his first basketball hoop.
“We cut the bottom out of a crate and put it up on a light pole on Prevost,” he said with a laugh. “The pole was our only backboard. All the neighborhood kids and some family members played out there.
He said it was tricky with no real backboard. You had to be accurate or you ended up running after the ball.
“I was good out there,” he grinned. “I think that’s how I got my shot, bro.”
Eventually he followed a cousin to a recreation center and was spotted by a coach.
“He saw Baby D, asked him if he wanted to be on a team and then said, ‘Well, let me talk to your momma,’ ” Tenisha said. “I was fine with it and that’s where it all started.”
Davis remembered those early days of basketball:
“In the summer I’d leave at 10 in the morning to play basketball and might not get home until 9 or 9:30 at night. Then it was about time to go to bed so I had no time on the streets.”
As he developed on the court, he also blossomed in the classroom and ended up with a 4.0 grade-point average at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men in Detroit and was the valedictorian of his high school class.
He aced his hoops tests, as well.
He became the Hurricanes’ all-time leading scorer with over 1,400 career points. His senior season he was named the Associated Press Class B player of the year in Michigan.
As a UD freshman he played in all 36 games and ended up leading the Atlantic 10 Conference in 3-point shooting. He scored 19 against Boston College and went 5-for-5 from 3-point range. He went 5-for-7 beyond the arc for 15 points against Oklahoma in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
His sophomore season he continued to progress on the court and was also named to UD’s all-academic team. Last season he started 16 of 31 games and averaged 5.5 points and 20.8 minutes.
“People come up to me all the time and say, ‘You raised a beautiful son,’ ” Tenisha said. “They say, ‘We see him on TV. He’s doing good. He’s a very smart young man.’
“And when he comes back here to Detroit, they all know it. They know his car and they come over and say, ‘Baby D’s home!’
“I tell ‘em, ‘No, not yet,’ and they say, ‘Oh yeah. He just stopped at so-and-so’s house.’
“I’m like, ‘Oh Lord!’ I know people are about to come over and we’ll have a whole house full to see Baby D.”
Changing his game
When he first came to UD, Davis said his role on the court changed:
“Everybody comes to college, especially if you are a Division I athlete, where once upon a time they were the best player in their high school.
“But in college you’ve got to see where you fit in the system. For me it was in shooting the basketball. In high school I had been a scorer, but here I had to become an outside shooter.”
In more ways than one he was Baby D because he was the only freshman scholarship player on the team.
“When I first got here I was expecting the guys to be very hard on me,” he said. “And they were at some point in practice. But it was more like a brotherhood for me, especially with Charles, Scooch, Kendall and even Jordan Sibert that first year..
“Jordan was one of the best leaders I ever played with. He did everything a leader could do for a young guy. He installed faith into me and God into me. He was just a guy I could go to anytime and ask anything, whether it was about family situations, basketball or even if I was sick. He was there to help.”
He said Scoochie Smith was a vocal leader who taught him “the dos and don’ts of offense and defense.”
He said Pollard led by example and that he watched the way Kyle Davis played defense and it was Cooke who gave him pointers about being a shooter:
“He told me not to stress about what happened in the past. Move on to the next shot. A shooter doesn’t dwell on the shot he missed, he just goes on to the next one he’s gonna make.”
Davis showed his mastery of that lesson eight nights ago against Akron. He had been held scoreless by the Zips in the first half and UD trailed by five at the break.
He came back and scored 10 quick points in the second half, the Flyers went on a 13-0 run and eventually won by 13. Davis finished with 12 second-half points.
“After the game I told him I was really proud of the way he was able to maintain his composure,” Flyers coach Anthony Grant said. “In the first half he had a tough time finding a rhythm offensively and only got three shots. In the second half he came out aggressive. He had really good composure. You want to see that from your senior.”
Davis likes playing for Grant, who took over from Archie Miller last spring.
“Coach Grant is a blessing from God,” Davis said. “He’s somebody who comes in and understands you and the culture of basketball here. He’s somebody you dream about getting as a coach, a one-in-a-million guy. Me being a senior, he’s somebody who can push me through the rest of my career the right way.”
He’s also drawing on lessons from the older Flyers who mentored him.
That was especially the case the other morning as he sat there after the Auburn loss.
“I’m a sore loser, I’ll be the first to admit it,” he said. “Right now I’m upset and I want to go watch film and see what we can do to get better.
“But I’m also not going to hang my head about it. It goes back to what Charles Cooke told me when I was younger. He said, ‘Don’t dwell on one game because that can carry over to the next game and then you keep losing.’
“He said, ‘You gotta keep moving forward Baby D.’
“And that’s what I’m going to do. I got to set the example for these younger guys.”
It was yet another realization of his presence, his reach, his impact on this Flyers’ season.