It feels like just yesterday I was watching high school senior Eric Davis Jr. play in the Michigan Class A State Championship. Now, the Saginaw product is entering his junior season for the Texas Longhorns, the most important season for him as a basketball player and a teammate.
Davis was a highly-touted recruit coming out of Saginaw Arthur Hill High School. According to 247Sports Composite rankings for the class of 2015, he was the No. 52 overall player, No. 13 shooting guard, and No. 2 player from the state of Michigan.
Rick Barnes edged out Tom Izzo and the in-state Spartans for Davis. After the firing of Barnes, his commitment to Texas was at issue, but, Shaka Smart was able to convince Davis to stick with his decision after an in-home visit.
The 6’2, 195-pound shooting guard adjusted to the college game rather quickly. In just his third game of the season, he scored 19 points and shot 6-of-10 from the floor against Texas A&M. He showed in big games against North Carolina, Iowa State and in the first round of NCAA Tournament against Northern Iowa.
A freshman year filled with flashes of excellence, clutch shooting and solid defense raised the expectations for Davis after he averaged 7.4 points per game, shot 38.2 percent from three and 79.6 percent from the line.
Davis was then expected to take the next step and possibly become the leading scorer for the team in his sophomore season. He certainly expected to improve enough to make the jump to the NBA. The outside expectations and the expectations he put on himself were perhaps not always fair, but the mental aspect of the game got to him.
He lacked confidence and was unable to find any rhythm throughout the season. It felt like he couldn’t throw a beach ball in the ocean on some nights. Other nights, it looked like he may breakthrough after having a solid game, especially after hitting a game-winning shot against Texas Tech, but was never able to do so.
He finished the season shooting an abysmal 25.5 percent from three, 32.9 percent from the floor and averaged just under 8 points per game. There were rumors that Davis might even transfer for the last two years of his college career. It was a miserable season to say the least.
Throughout the offseason, Davis was one of the key members of the team improving mentally and being a part of a changed culture in the locker room. On Wednesday, he said that he was “excited” about the upcoming season and his chance at redemption.
While Davis most spoke in terms of the team responding better to adversity and showing mental improvement, it was also clear that he was talking about himself as well, given his struggles last season.
“Yeah, definitely,” Davis said when pressed about better understanding his own role. “Like I said, it’s a fresh start for everybody and I’m looking forward to it. I’m just going to go out and play my game and show everybody what I’ve been working on — my shot, passing, every aspect of the game.”
Perhaps the biggest key is that Davis said he’s not putting pressure on himself and simply wants to go out and play the game. That’s a notable change from last season, when he was clearly pressing to find any sort of rhythm to regain his confidence.
The struggles for Davis were also largely due to the lack of a true point guard for Texas. The loss of Isaiah Taylor to the NBA was huge and it showed throughout the whole team. It was a forgettable year for Davis and the rest of the ‘Horns, but it could be beneficial moving forward.
Having a true point guard is probably the most important thing in college basketball. Shaka Smart got his guy in Matt Coleman, so the opportunity for Davis to succeed is there with Coleman having the keys to the offense now.
“It makes my job a lot easier,” Davis said. “I really don’t have to force anything — he’s finding me and he’s always looking for me. It’s just catch and shoot, so if I see a few go on, it just opens up a lot more for me in terms of opportunities, guys flying at me, driving to the lane, driving to kick, and little things like that.”
But it’s not just Coleman who is making plays for Davis — he said that sophomore guard Andrew Jones is also much improved in that area with his point-guard abilities, as well as another sophomore, Jacob Young, who was most known for his quick trigger on three pointers as a freshman.
Now entering his junior season and the most important season for him, Davis looks to finally be ready to take that next step. That next step is different than what it may have been last season.
It’s important that he becomes a more consistent three-point shooter who can hit a shot when the team needs one. He needs to become more aggressive offensively and drive to the basket, rather than heavily relying on his stroke from distance. As one of the seasoned veterans on this young team, Davis can step up and become a leader for this group like he showed at certain times last year and as a freshman.
With the first three games coming against Northwestern State, New Hampshire and Lipscomb, he has a chance to develop confidence in his shooting right away against lesser competition before heading into the PK80 Tournament. However, he will have to overcome a groin injury that limited him on Friday against the Demons.
In Smart’s latest press conference, he made several noteworthy mentions about Davis and this upcoming season.
“Snoop and Eric have taken a step,” Smart said. “I’ve talked before about the humility that they gained last year. They’ve been really good in the preseason with their play and leadership.”
When asked about who would take the last shot in a close game, Smart said that he would like Davis taking that shot, showing how much trust and confidence Smart has within Davis despite his struggles last season.
When asked how to describe Texas, as a team, confidence wise, Smart said that Davis wasn’t as confident as he tried to let on, an area where the whole team needs to improve.
Texas comes back to win by two in its third game in Australia. Eric Davis with a huge spark in 2nd half -- could be X-Factor for Longhorns.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 18, 2017
Coming off a strong offseason and a good showing in Australia, Davis looks to be in store for a bounce back season this year. His role may be coming off the bench this year, but he should still receive a significant amount of playing time. The opportunities will be there for him, he just has to have the confidence in himself as a player.
All signs point towards the right direction for Davis thus far. The potential is there, he just has to put it all together to achieve big things for the ‘Horns.
Can he can develop into one of the best three point shooters in the Big 12 this year? Can he potentially be in the running for the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year award?
Wescott Eberts contributed to this report.