The best things Kyle Davis did Saturday afternoon weren’t the most obvious.
The junior guard’s greatest contributions in the Dayton Flyers’ 96-69 exhibition victory over Saginaw Valley State at UD Arena were not the ones worthy of the highlight reel.
They were not:
• When Davis blocked the layup attempt by Saginaw Valley guard Kellen Smith early in the game and then, as a Flyer teammate grabbed the carom and rushed the ball up the floor on a fast break, he came roaring down the side of the court, gathered in the lead pass and streaked in for his own layup past stunned Cardinals defenders.
• When one of the Flyers big men ended up out of position, he shifted down low on 6-foot-5 C.J. Turnage, and though he was giving up five inches and probably 30 pounds, he muscled into position and tipped the incoming pass away from Saginaw Valley’s top scorer and into the hands of a teammate.
• When he drove to the hoop for a fast-break layup, saw a a Saginaw Valley defender coming at an angle and promptly flipped a perfect Harlem Globetrotter pass straight behind him to hard-charging Xeyrius Williams. The freshman was stunned enough by the razzle-dazzle that he went up for an uncontested dunk … and missed.
Davis yelled at him to get his head back in the game and the next time down the floor, when there was finally a break in the action, he came over and gave Williams a little punch in the arm
“Yeah, X kinda made me a little mad with that pass at first,” Davis said with a shrug afterward. “But after that I saw he was beating himself up, so I had to tell him, ‘Hey, you’re gonna make layups and you’re gonna miss layups. That’s basketball. The next play, just make it.”
That’s a sign of leadership and that brings us to the two most important things — at least in my book — Davis did.
With 12:45 left in the first half, UD’s high-flying junior forward Kendall Pollard — who hadn’t practiced all week because of a bruised shoulder — went in for a layup and was fouled hard by Turnage, who knocked him across the baseline and onto the floor near where the cheerleaders were lined up.
The takedown drew a tangle of bodies and from out on the court Davis knew what likely would be coming next. Pollard would morph into the Incredible Hulk and his green-eyed fury would be directed at Turnage.
Without hesitation, Davis, one of the UD captains, moved around the referee, waded into the scrum and grabbed Pollard.
Although the 6-foot-6 junior forward would get whistled for a technical for his verbal response, the outcome could have been far more serious.
“Me and Kendall and Scoochie (Smith) have been around each other and we know how we react,” Davis said. “I know Kendall can be explosive sometimes and I saw it coming, so I wanted to calm him down and not let it escalate.
“I just told him: ‘Big fella, we don’t need that right now. We need you this game and we’re gonna need you in the next game. And he listened. He realized he had to calm down.”
Then, near the end of the game UD coach Archie Miller put four freshmen in the game — Williams, Ryan Mikesell, Sam Miller, John Cosby — and kept Davis out there to be their on-court compass.
“Early this year in practice Coach has been putting me in with the four freshmen,” said Davis, who had eight points, three assists, a steal and a blocked shot. “He wants to see how I can encourage them and make them better and get them ready for what we’re fixin’ to go through in the next couple of weeks.
“I just try to talk them up and keep their heads on straight.”
After the game Miller gave a similar explanation for Davis’ Piped Pier play:
“With Kyle, you trust him to do exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. By far he is one of the most trustworthy guys, if not THE most trustworthy guy, we have.”
Back when Davis was a baby-faced freshman, brand new to campus, the uninitiated never would have dreamed Miller would one day gush so glowingly about him.
The first thing you noticed about Davis back then were his tattoos — 26 in all — that covered his legs, inner arms, chest and back. And coming from the South Side of Chicago, he had some tough coming-of-age stories. He said he didn’t know his father and he had stories about friends who had been shot and killed.
“Yeah, but when you really know him he’s just the opposite,” Miller said Saturday. “It’s the old case of you can’t judge a book by his cover.”
And once you talked to the folks who knew him best back in Chicago — starting with his mom, Rhonda Davis, the woman who raised him — you understood what Miller meant.
Davis had been an A and B student in high school and his mom told the story of how, from the age of 11 or 12, he had shown initiative and work ethic. In the summers he had a full-time job mowing seven or eight lawns in the area and doing landscaping.
“He was a real little entrepreneur,” she once told me.
And if you look at those tats close enough, you realize that that’s the Lord’s Prayer inked word for word around his leg.
“On the court he is competitive, that’s what we liked about him when we recruited him,” Miller said. “There is that element of a tough city kid who has an edge to him sand plays that way.
“But when you deal with him in a different setting, he very responsible, very well respected. He wants to be coached and then he really does what he’s supposed to do.”
No play exemplified that more than when Davis broke away for another layup only to have Saginaw Valley’s Mike Wells grab him in a bear hug to prevent him from shooting. The crowd — said to be 12,073 — hooted at the playground roughhousing, something the Cardinals resorted to on a few occasions, and the ref whistled Wells for an intentional foul.
Davis didn’t react. He just went to the line and made both free throws.
“I really wasn’t (ticked) off,” he said. “I guess they were trying to prove a point, though what point they were proving, I don’t know.
“I saw all that and really didn’t care about it. I’m a tougher player than that.”
He’s the kind of leader the Flyers need.