State of the Hogs: Davis compares to Razorback great

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, February 12, 2021
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis dribbles during a game against Ole Miss on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Fayetteville.
( Gunnar Rathbun, University of Arkansas Razorback Athletics )
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis dribbles during a game against Ole Miss on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Fayetteville.

Excuse me, but I beg to differ with Jimmy Dykes after listening to his analysis of the Arkansas victory over Kentucky.

No, it’s not about too much attention given to John Calipari’s slumping Wildcats. That’s a national basketball story. From my perspective, Dykes is welcome to discuss UK’s fall into the abyss in great frequency.

But I don’t buy into Dykes' comparison to describe the play of Arkansas freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis. I don’t see Davis as similar to Patrick Beverley, at least not in their freshman seasons at Arkansas.

Beverley was a delight to watch during that 2006-07 campaign. He led the Hogs in scoring at 13.9 per game en route to SEC newcomer of the year honors. He made 73 of 189 three-pointers, a 39% clip.

That’s the part of Beverley's game that doesn’t match the way Davis plays for the Hogs. Beverley arrived on the UA campus with the reputation as a three-point gunner.

It wasn’t until Beverley returned from Europe as a professional that his style might remind of what Davis is doing for the Hogs now. Beverley is a down-and-dirty defender now. He gets loose balls and tough rebounds. That was not his strength as a Razorback, especially as a freshman.

Beverley ran basketball’s version of the I-formation. If he got it, he shot it. The deeper Beverley shot, the better. He shot 189 three-pointers in his first season with the Hogs. Davis is 2 of 5 on three-point attempts.

No, the man — and that’s the right word — who best compares to Davis might be Sidney Moncrief, the greatest of all time in the minds of many Arkansas fans.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Jimmy Counce, a Moncrief teammate, and Pat Foster, the UA assistant coach who recruited Moncrief.

Both would be ultra careful to make any comparisons to Moncrief, but they see the way Davis passes others on the floor to chase loose balls and rebounds as Moncrief-like traits. Counce loves the way Davis goes on the floor to gain possessions for his team.

“He has the same fearlessness (as Moncrief),” Counce said. “He is a better ball handler than Sidney was as a freshman but not as good inside as Sidney. But what 6-4 player can ever be as good as Moncrief was inside?"

It’s that fearlessness that Foster loves, too. He sees Davis race through traffic to claim rebounds.

“That’s like Sidney,” Foster said. “I saw that from Sidney first as a high school player during his sophomore and junior years, and that’s when I decided he could be great.

“Not everybody did think Sidney was going to be great. Plenty recruited him, but Art Tolis, Dale Brown’s recruiter at LSU, told me early on that he saw greatness in Sidney. I didn’t hear anyone else say that.”

None of this is to slight Moses Moody, the Hogs’ true freshman with the silky shot. Moody leads the Hogs with a 16.3-point scoring average.

Davis is seventh best on the team with a 6.6 scoring average. He also has 21 steals, including 15 in SEC games. Those steals stand out.

Davis raced past three players to make a steal of a half-court pass to seal the Kentucky game. There is desire and anticipation in his defensive presence.

Counce was a great defender for the Hogs and was an assistant coach under Eddie Sutton after his playing career. He served alongside Foster and the two often sit together at Arkansas games. They came away from the Kentucky game with similar thoughts. They know good defenders and effort when they see it.

“I give Jimmy (Counce) credit for first seeing that comparison between Moncrief and Davis,” Foster said. “I see it now, too, after hearing Jimmy say it. He’s right.

“The ability to go get a rebound is where you saw Sidney’s desire. At 6-4, he could rebound with centers. He even did that in the pros against 6-10 centers.”

Foster likes what he sees of Davis in the way he takes coaching from Eric Musselman. It reminds of Moncrief, too.

“What you look for when a coach is trying to correct a player, where are they looking?” Foster said. “Are they listening? Do they want to be coached and be great? Sidney did and he just kept getting better even after he was a pro.

“I heard Sidney say this probably 1,000 times: 'Coach, just tell me what you want me to do.' That’s really important. If Davis takes the Sidney route, he will be great. He has the tools. Just listen to his coach.”

It’s great quickness, ability to elevate and desire to get to the ball that gives Davis a chance to be great. He’s also got a potent mid-range jumper and isn’t afraid to drive for it in crunch time.

At 6-3, Davis has good length. He’s a good jumper, too. That’s something Foster looked for in trying to project talent to the next level.

“Pat was as good as anyone at that,” Counce said. “He came back from seeing Scott Hastings with a plea to sign him. No one at Kansas and Kansas State wanted him. (Former Arkansas assistant) Gene Keady saw him and didn’t want to offer. Pat thought Scott was really going to develop.”

It wasn’t the ability to jump that Foster saw in Hastings, but that’s what it was with both Moncrief and later U.S. Reed.

As the sports editor of the Conway Log Cabin, I sat with Foster at all-star practices just ahead of Reed’s freshman year at Arkansas. Foster offered Reed after one of those practices, late in the summer. No other Division I program was recruiting the 6-2 center from Pine Bluff.

On a bass fishing trip to Lake Conway, Foster told me that he was going to offer Reed the next day and that he’d be a guard for the Hogs. I thought he was crazy. Reed never shot from outside.

“What I saw in Reed was the same thing I saw in Moncrief, and it related to the ability to rebound,” Foster said. “Both of them could probably do 32 or 33 (inches) in a vertical jump. A lot of people can do that. But they could do it over and over.

“You test someone and they do 32, then if you ask them to do two jumps in a row, for 90% the second jump falls off by 12 to 15 inches. Sidney and US would keep doing 32. It’s unusual.”

Foster said projections are risky.

“You are not always going to be right,” he said. “Eddie, Gene and I talked a lot about that on prospects. The one thing we always asked ourselves, can they do one thing great?

“Whether it’s baseball, basketball or about anything else, I think they usually need to do one thing great. Jimmy (Counce) said I hit on a lot (of prospects), but I missed, too.”

Everyone thinks Davis is going to be a hit. It’s not like he was under valued. As a four-time all-state player at Jacksonville, Davis was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Player of the Year.

Davis is part of a great Arkansas freshman class with Moody, Jaylin Williams and KK Robinson. The latter is out for the season with foot surgery. Moody, Davis and Williams played key minutes in the victory over Kentucky.

It’s ability to perform in the clutch that Counce likes about Davis.

“He has great presence at the end of a game,” Counce said. “For instance he’s not as good as Moses but he’s much more assertive at the end of tight games than Moses.

“Devo has the fire to be a shutdown defender. If he ever gets a right hand, he will be All-SEC.”

Moody may be a one-and-done, but Davis needs more polish. He’s too prone to drive left, his strong hand.

“(Davis) is just what we need — an Arkansas kid who plays like he has some pride in being a Razorback and is really good but not quite good enough to leave too early for the pros,” Counce said.

Counce played with the Triplets — Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph. All were 6-4.

“We have three really good freshmen from Arkansas and there are some interesting parallels,” Counce said. “Sidney was from Little Rock, Marvin from Conway and Ron from Fort Smith. Moses is from Little Rock, Jaylin from Fort Smith and Davis is from Jacksonville, not far from Conway. That’s close enough for me.”

I’ll happily take a twist of that thought. It’s big news if Counce is close on his comparison between the new Razorback guard from Jacksonville and the greatest one from Little Rock.

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