Kyle Davis described returning to the University of Dayton in much the same way as his former teammate, Scoochie Smith. In short, both players, whose names and accomplishments are now part of the Dayton basketball history book, said it felt different visiting campus.
Smith and Davis, two of the four senior starters who graduated in 2017 and set a school record with 102 career victories, stopped by UD in recent weeks at different times. The visit by Davis on April 6 coincided with visits by two other former Dayton Flyers: Charles Little and Bobby Wehrli. Davis said Dayton coach Anthony Grant has welcomed UD grads back with open arms since he was hired a year ago.
“He encourages all the guys that graduated from Dayton to come back and play with the guys just to get them geared up for next season,” Davis said.
Grant, a UD alum himself, said he is living proof of how valuable it is to make sure former Flyers remain close to the program.
“Every time I came back to campus, I always felt welcome,” Grant said. “I always felt there was a connection. For those guys, I want them to always feel they can come here. I think our community, our university, our coaching staff, our players should always have a connection to those guys.”
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Davis plans to visit again soon because it’s a good way for him to get quality time on the court in his first offseason as a professional basketball player. For now, Davis is back home in Chicago. He spent some time Tuesday in a phone interview reflecting on his experience in the NBA G League.
In 16 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Davis averaged 5.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 18.9 minutes per game.
“I learned a lot from the coaching staff and players and the league overall,” Davis said. “It was a good experience.”
Davis had to wait a long time for his chance. The most difficult time came last summer when he was trying to figure out what to do. He could have played overseas but had his mind set on playing in the G League. He didn’t get a chance in the NBA Summer League like Smith and Charles Cooke, another 2017 senior, and he didn’t get invited to a G League tryout in August, as did the fourth member of that class, Kendall Pollard.
“Sitting at home, not knowing my next move, was the hardest,” Davis said. “I had to keep myself focused. I had a lot of people calling me and telling me to keep my head up and stay focused.”
Davis credited a number of people from Dayton for counseling him during that time: former Dayton director of basketball operations Eric Farrell; Eric’s brother Andy, who’s now Dayton’s director of scouting and program development; trainer Mike Mulcahey; and former Dayton trainer Patrick O’Neal. They all told him, “Good things happen to good guys,” and he used that as motivation to keep working.
Jeremiah Bonsu, the former Dayton walk-on who’s now a graduate assistant at Bowling Green, helped Davis as well.
“Jeremiah always hit me up,” Davis said, “He just said, ‘Keep grinding, bro, and your time is going to come.’”
Davis got his first chance in the G League when he went to training camp with the Vipers in Hidalgo, Texas, in October. While he was cut before the season began, the Vipers told him he did everything they asked and to be ready later in the season because they might need him then.
Davis stayed in shape in Chicago, going to the gym late at night with old high school friends and playing three times a week. The Vipers called his agent in January, and he finally got his chance and quickly found his niche. He played a total of 14 minutes in his first three games and then play 20 or more minutes in all but three of the games the rest of the way.
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Playing at Dayton for four seasons had prepared Davis, who ranks 67th in Dayton history with 820 points, well for life in pro basketball.
“It’s the same lifestyle,” Davis said. “It’s the same experience, except for not going to school. You still have media (obligations). You still have fans that come to the game and you watch what you say and what you do. Pro scouts are watching you. Overseas scouts are watching you. At the end of the day, you still have to be a professional, and they hold you accountable.”
Davis played a familiar role with the Vipers. He was known as a defensive stopper throughout his career at Dayton and made the All-Atlantic 10 defensive team as a senior. The Vipers needed strong defense from him but also asked him to play point guard. Smith had that role with the Flyers, though Davis often showed a point-guard mentality. He averaged 1.9 assists in his career.
“Me and Scoochie still laugh about it,” Davis said. “When we were both being recruited, I was like, ‘Come to Dayton. I’m not going to be the point guard. Don’t worry about me.’”
When the G League season ended, Davis returned to Chicago. He will look at his options in the offseason. He’ll consider playing overseas or returning to the G League.
“I met with everybody from the Vipers,” Davis said. “They told me everything I need to work on.”
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Davis plans to work out at area colleges in Chicago and also to return to Dayton to work out with the Flyers. He said it was tough watching the team struggle last season and hearing about it from his teammates with the Vipers.
“Everyone was on my case, saying, ‘Why isn’t Dayton in the NCAA tournament?’” Davis said. “I had to go back and forth with those guys. It takes time to get back in the groove. We set the standards high. I have faith in them to get where we were and even better. Hopefully, in a few years, I could be going to games and looking at them in the Final Four.”
Davis is especially excited to see what his former Morgan Park High School and Dayton teammate Josh Cunningham can do. Cunningham is the team’s leading returning scorer, and he’ll be a fifth-year senior in 2018-19.
“Josh had an incredible year,” Davis said. “Just to see him healthy and getting up and down the court and doing the things he did, I told Josh, ‘You’re a pro.’ All Josh has to do is take his game to another level.”