'He commands respect': Davis evolving into leader Arkansas needs

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2023
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis reacts to a play on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 69-57 win over the Ole Miss Rebels at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
( Hank Layton )
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis reacts to a play on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 69-57 win over the Ole Miss Rebels at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Davonte "Devo" Davis had clearly seen enough.

Moments after LSU guard Trae Hannibal’s feet hit the floor following a dunk in transition, Davis, in disgust, signaled for a timeout to the official along the baseline. Both teams then moved toward their respective benches, the once-lifeless Tigers with a bit more bounce in their step.

On the Arkansas side, there was some confusion as its lead dwindled to 46-35 and play came to a stop. The expression on Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman’s face indicated he was unsure what had just happened.

“Yeah, I called it,” explained Davis, a junior guard. “They were trying to get on an even longer run. I was like, ‘Nope, not doing it. Let’s call timeout, get ourselves together.’

“(Musselman) was lost at first. I was like, ‘I called it.’”

Arkansas’ fourth-year coach is generally against stoppages in play beyond when absolutely necessary. But he would likely agree that Davis’ timeout with 9:18 remaining Tuesday was beneficial for the Razorbacks and a show of leadership.

Davis’ performance down the stretch was, too. Out of the timeout, he scored or assisted on 4 of Arkansas’ next 5 scores and helped the Razorbacks balloon their lead to 21 with 4:42 to play.

Arkansas defeated LSU 60-40.

More from WholeHogSports: Gus Argenal, Makhi Mitchell discuss Saturday's game at Baylor

“Devo’s done that about three times, maybe four,” Musselman said. “I know he did at least once as a freshman. It’s probably two parts. He was probably tired and mad, and knows I’m not going to call one.

“You add those together and he called it himself.”

The heady solo decision-making and ensuing on-court sequence is a snapshot of Davis’ team ownership in recent games as Arkansas has attempted to turn its SEC season around. Though impactful, the veteran was most influential in between those moments.

Musselman noted that he felt his roster had been waiting for a non-coach voice to emerge. In previous seasons, players such as Mason Jones, Jimmy Whitt, Jalen Tate, Jaylin Williams and JD Notae assumed that invaluable role.

Davis, this time around, appears to be stepping up to fill the void.

“He was very, very vocal in timeouts throughout the game,” Musselman said. “I think he’s kind of turned the corner on that. … It’s interesting because I have so many friends that come and observe practice, people from out of town that might not know our players’ personalities, and I love to get their feedback.

“One of the themes is it’s a group that does a great job listening and trying do the right things, but at times a little bit quiet, unlike some of our other teams. We need Devo to continue to evolve into that guy for us.”

Davis has long exhibited leadership qualities. Monty Patel saw them firsthand as an assistant coach at Jacksonville High School.

To Patel’s knowledge, Davis never called a timeout on his own in the season they spent together. But he remembers vividly the guard being demonstrative in a state tournament game against Greene County Tech when his team was not on the same page.

More from WholeHogSports: Razorbacks to rename basketball center after $5 million donation

“We’re running our zone offense,” said Patel, who now serves as head coach at eStem Public Charter High School in Little Rock. “They’re zoning us, and one of our players is in the wrong spot in the offense. Devo just yells in the middle of the court, ‘Get here,’ with some words you probably shouldn’t be saying in high school.

“Getting guys in their spots and being a leader, guys respected him so much in the locker room. He’s been a leader since I’ve been around him. I came in only on his senior year, but it was so easy for me to just recognize that he’s a leader and an Alpha dog.

“He commands respect, but he also earns it by scoring and guarding the best player every single night.”

Jacksonville defeated Greene County Tech 82-69 to advance in the state playoffs. It then beat Marion to clinch a spot in the state championship, but the title game was called off because of the covid-19 pandemic. Davis’ high school career was suddenly over.

But Patel stressed to him the importance of continuing to work. He advised Davis to attack the weight room if he had plans of seeing the floor as a freshman at Arkansas.

Three days per week they would drive to Arkansas Fitness & Athletics in Little Rock for workouts. Patel recalls that Davis, at first, was not a big fan of lifting, but he soon owned his situation.

“I’d have to go pick him up and ask him if he was ready, and it would take a little while then he’d get in the car and we’d go,” Patel said. “Then, one day, he didn’t call me and tell me he was ready, so I was wondering if he was OK. I got a text saying that he got there by himself.

“We knew at that point he started falling in love with it.”

More from WholeHogSports: Musselman always looking to learn, no matter the sport

With a more mature physique and sky-high confidence, Davis became a vital piece in the Razorbacks’ first Elite Eight run under Musselman. He averaged 14.3 points on 50% shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 2 assists in the team’s 4 NCAA Tournament games, and created several moments that will stand the test of time, including a game-winning shot with 3.1 seconds remaining to beat Oral Roberts in the Sweet 16. 

Davis then contributed 7.8 points in Arkansas’ journey to the Elite Eight in 2022. The Razorbacks need more high-level play from the junior if they hope to again become a contender in March.

Entering Saturday’s game at No. 17 Baylor as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, he is on a roll unlike any other in his career from a scoring standpoint. Davis is averaging 16.6 points on 47.8% shooting — 50% from three-point range — in Arkansas’ last 5 games.

And he is routinely locked in to his challenging defensive assignments.

“The defense, unbelievable basically the whole SEC season,” Musselman said Tuesday during a halftime interview on ESPN2. “I know don’t if there’s a better perimeter defender in the country.”

From Patel’s perspective, Davis is simply playing with passion. Coupled with countless hours working on his game behind closed doors, he is not surprised by the uptick in Davis’ productivity or his wide-ranging impact.

He is arguably the best competitor Patel, who has coached Team Arkansas in The Basketball Tournament, has been around in his career.

“I know he gets frustrated when they’re losing, and I think he just found a different way to find joy while they’re playing and figure out how to get wins,” Patel said. “It’s a matter of taking joy in making someone else’s life miserable…and letting it turn into his offense.

“He’s very competitive in a lot of things. He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He just goes after it and tries to win.”


Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.