I find it semi-amusing that Mike Davis has to be publicly reminded that there are higher expectations for Indiana University basketball than seconddivision Big Ten finishes or NIT bids, that “We’re No. 4” is not an acceptable rallying cry, that the fans are demanding, that the boosters tend to be cranky and that, gee, a third mediocre season in a row might cost him his $800,000-a-year job.
Well, yeah. So?
Nonetheless, now the basketball literally is in Davis’ court.
Which means it’s time to stop the whining, the excuse-making and all that woe-isme malarkey.
Which means it’s time to start coaching. Time to put a team on the floor that runs some semblance of an offense-motion, pro, picket fence, any offense. Time to bring some basketball players into the program. Or develop the ones he has into basketball players. If I wanted to see guys who can run fast and jump high, I’d go to a track meet.
Candidly, “well-coached” has not been a term associated with Indiana basketball the last few seasons.
Even so, there are many IU fans-in particular, a majority of alumni and students-who want Davis to succeed because they see him, essentially, as a good man.
But they also want him to shut up about what a difficult gig he has, what a demanding schedule he was handed, what a young team he has, what a collection of bad breaks he has received and how tough it is to be him.
So the obvious now has become the mandate. Davis has to go win a significant number of basketball games next season and lead one of the nation’s most tradition-laden programs back to national prominence. In other words, earn that 800 grand.
Or be gone. It’s that simple.
He is not, as he would argue, cursed. Instead, he has been blessed, mostly by timing. And we all know timing is everything.
Davis was blessed to be in the right place at the right time to be given the reins of Indiana basketball because under anything approaching normal circumstances, he likely wouldn’t have gotten an interview, let alone the job. Timing.
He then was blessed to have a team consisting largely of his predecessor’s players hit its stride-to his credit, because of the way Davis led them-and take him all the way to the championship game. Timing.
Then, Davis played the athletic director, a fawning media and the heady rush of post-Bobby national success into the big-time contract. He put out all those rumors of interest in going elsewhere. He backed Indiana into a corner and Indiana blinked. How dare it not lock up this young African-American coach who had just led the Hoosiers to within a whisker of a national championship, something Knight hadn’t done for more than a decade. He worked the system. He cashed. Timing.
All Davis had to do was back it up.
He hasn’t. Indiana has become an average program, and the rationalizations are stale.
The players he recruited-the ones he advertised to be the cornerstones of IU’s rebuilding process-have floundered. Weren’t Bracey Wright and Marshall Strickland going to be the best backcourt in the country? They’re barely among the top five backcourts in the Big Ten.
Still, timing continues to be Davis’ salvation. As much as he wants to play the race card-that shadowy, Internet-fed group of redneck conspirators out to get him-it certainly can’t hurt that Indiana now has an African-American president. Timing.
As much as Indiana’s athletic director, Rick Greenspan, might ponder the possibility of buying Davis out of his contract, how can he when he just had to short-circuit football coach Gerry DiNardo, adding to the flood of Big Red ink? Timing.
So Davis has been able to buy himself another year, using young players and heralded transfers as collateral.
Sure, he’s had a difficult challenge. Whoever succeeded Knight, under any circumstance, was not going to placate The General’s sycophants. Even Steve Alford.
But other coaches, in somewhat similar circumstances, have thrived. Tubby Smith, for example, had to put up with the same kind of nonsense-maybe worse-than Davis. Yet the Wildcat program thrives. His “young” team topped the Southeastern Conference, was consistently in the top 10 all season long, and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Which also offers a measuring stick next December for Davis.
For starters, beat Kentucky.
Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send email to email@example.com.