When the Eastern Kentucky University men’s basketball team opens the regular season against Rice on Friday, a face familiar to many Central Kentucky basketball fans will suit up for the Colonels for the first time.
After transferring from Butler and sitting out last year under NCAA rules, former Lafayette star and 2014 Mr. Basketball finalist Jackson Davis is set to embark on his junior season with EKU.
At last week’s media day in Richmond, Davis called the move to EKU “the best decision I’ve made so far” and said he can’t wait to get back on the court.
“It’s definitely gonna be exciting,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know the guys and I’ve been around most of them for a year already and I think we’ve got a really good group.”
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A 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward, Davis graduated as Lafayette’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots. A three-star recruit, Davis struggled to find the floor at Butler, averaging 5.7 minutes, 2.5 points and 1.6 rebounds as a sophomore.
EKU Coach Dan McHale said fans should expect vastly different numbers from Davis as a Colonel.
“He’s more of a stretch-four than I thought. He’s really worked on his outside game and he has very good perimeter skills,” McHale said. “But if I could hang my hat on one thing Jackson does well it’s rebound the ball. Jackson’s as good a rebounder as I’ve seen in a long time. We’re not gonna give up many second-chance points when he’s on the court.
“I’m challenging him. Look, if you want to help this team and reintroduce yourself to the basketball world ... go get double-doubles. And that’s what he takes pride in. He’s gonna try to get a double-double every game. And that’s gonna translate into wins for us.”
McHale said the steady improvement Davis has shown over the last year is a product of his work ethic, as well as his practice battles with two-time All-OVC first-team forward Nick Mayo, who led the Colonels in scoring and rebounding as a sophomore last year.
“(Davis) has gone up against Nick every day and it’s been beneficial to both of them,” McHale said. “They’ve battled every day for a year and it’s helped Jackson really evolve his outside game, and I don’t have limitations on bigs. If you can shoot the ball, you’ve got free rein to shoot it. And Jackson’s got a nice outside shot and he’s very tough in the elbow. He’s got a great mid-range game and he just plays with so much energy.
“I call them fire and ice,” McHale said of his twin towers. “Nick is kind of laid back, calm, cool, collected ... Jackson’s that guy you don’t want to play against, but you’re gonna want on your team because he’s gonna set great screens, he’s gonna do all the dirty work and he’s gonna be the first guy there in a scrum protecting his teammates.”
Mayo said Davis is ready to take the OVC by storm.
“He’s a huge addition for us. He can score inside, outside and he brings a ton of energy. He’s a great rebounder, so he’s gonna do a lot of good things this year.”
The man who’ll steer the ship for EKU gave Davis his stamp of approval as well. Sophomore point guard Asante Gist, who was named OVC Newcomer of the Year and was the Colonels’ second-leading scorer last season, said Davis’ leadership will be crucial for a team with six freshmen on the roster.
“He adds tenaciousness and leadership and experience,” Gist said. “He’s an older guy we look up to for advice and he’s always talking to the younger guys. He’s got experience at this level, and with such a young team people listen to what he’s saying because he knows what he’s talking about. I embrace my leadership role but I don’t know everything. It helps me to have another person to go out there and get the message to the guys.”
Davis and his teammates hope to send a message to the rest of the OVC that the Colonels are back to being contenders after last year’s disappointing 12-19 campaign.
“As far as tangible goals go, I think we’d like to get an OVC championship back to EKU and get an NCAA (tournament) berth. I think that would be great for the program,” Davis said. “I think we definitely have the players this year and the team, the brotherhood to get us to that place.”
Knee injury will cost sophomore another season
Redshirt sophomore guard Dujuanta Weaver will miss his second season in a row for the Colonels.
Weaver went down with a non-contact injury in EKU’s 91-69 exhibition win over Georgetown College last Friday and was later diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee. Weaver tore the same ACL while playing for Louisville’s Doss High School. He missed all of last year with a torn ACL in his right knee.
“Tay will still have a valuable role on the team,” McHale said in an email statement Wednesday. “He’ll always have a smile on his face, he’ll lead by example and his impact on this team will be felt even more. As difficult as this is for Tay and his family, I’m confident there is a silver lining in the end.”
EKU at Rice
When: 8 p.m. EST
Where: Houston, Texas
Radio: WCYO-FM 100.7
Online: Live video broadcast available on FloSports.com (pay site). Live audio broadcast available on EKUsports.com (free).
Series: First meeting
Conference: Ohio Valley
Coach: Dan McHale
Last season: 12-19
East Orange, N.J.
Nov. 10—at Rice, 8; 13—at Mississippi, 6:30; 16—KENTUCKY ST., 7; 20—a-Prairie View A&M, 2; 22—a-TBA, 25—ASBURY, 5; 29—at Western Ky., 8
Dec. 2—JACKSONVILLE, 6; 5—at Oregon St., 10; 10—at Northern Ky., 6; 15—at Charleston Southern, 7:30; 18—NORFOLK ST., 8; 22—at Marshall, 7; 28—at Jacksonville St., 8:30; 30—at Tennessee Tech, 7
Jan. 4—SIU-EDWARDSVILLE, 8; 6—E. ILLINOIS, 4; 11—at Tenn.-Martin, 8:30; 13—at SE Missouri, 5:15; 18—TENNESSEE TECH, 8; 20—JACKSONVILLE ST., 7; 25—at Austin Peay, 8:30; 27—at Murray St., 8
Feb. 1—BELMONT, 8; 3—TENNESSEE ST., 7; 8—TENN.-MARTIN, 8; 10—MOREHEAD ST., 7; 15—at Belmont, 8; 17—at Tennessee St., 8:30; 22—SE MISSOURI ST., 8; 24—at Morehead St., 2
x-exhibition; a-at Las Vegas, Nev.