Upcoming senior Mike Davis wants to play pro basketball. He has done well enough in his first three seasons at Illinois to warrant consideration for the pros, so he chose to submit his name for the NBA draft and get professional feedback on his draft potential.
He was told he would not be a first round draft pick, so he decided to withdraw from the draft and return to the UI for his final season of eligibility. Davis was asked how difficult a decision it was for him.
"I don't know. I talked to my dad about it. He said, 'How do you feel?' The guy said I would probably be a second rounder, and I don't want to be that. He said, 'Where do you want to be next year?' I said I want to work to be my best to be a first rounder.
"He said, 'If you feel like you're gonna be a second rounder this year and a second rounder next year, you might as well leave now.' But I don't feel that way. I feel I can work my way into the first round next year and be a guaranteed guy."
He had a pro workout in Portland. It was a whirlwind, but he learned what he needed to learn.
"It was fun. It was quick, it went by pretty fast. I learned that I've got to get stronger. They were surprised at how athletic I was. I cleared the whole vert thing (vertical leap standard), and they didn't have anybody do that. I'm glad I did that. I came in at 6'-9" with my shoes on. My reach is 7'-0". It was a good experience.
Obviously, the slender Davis needs more weight and strength. The Portland tryout gave him feedback on how to reach his ideal physical size.
"They said I needed to be about 225-230. That's where my ideal weight should be. Eat properly, don't eat too much fast food but eat a lot of protein with a lot of calories."
Davis also needs to expand his offensive game to have more scoring options since he is not built like the ideal pro power forward.
"They say in the NBA right now I'm a 4/3, and they want me to be more of a 3/4. So they said to work on the corner three, which is the closest three point shot they have. And get to the basket more, use your athleticism and your arms. Dunk on people, use those things to your advantage.
"I crash the defensive boards with reckless abandon, and I should do that on the offensive end too. They said if I do that there should be no reason why I shouldn't be a first round pick."
He can't limit himself to being a catch-and-shoot performer. Rather, he should be able to create shots off the dribble.
"Yeah. I did that more toward the end of the season, but now it's got to be the whole season. Be stronger and more consistent with it so I can do it whenever need be."
The pro workout proved valuable, but the pros pay close attention to the top performers all year long and don't make decisions solely on a workout according to Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
"The think kids sometimes don't realize, and parents don't realize, the NBA watches you all year. It's not one workout that makes a difference. Each team probably saw us from 8 to 15 times. And then if they're really interested, they're gonna watch the tapes of our games. For them, it's an educated thing.
"The workout is to get to know you a little better. It's an interview process. They had an opportunity to show themselves all year to create a pretty good image. And that's what I hope our guys took out of it."
Davis learned a great deal from the pros, but it was nothing he hadn't heard many times before. It does however make a difference hearing from outside experts.
"It's big. Coach says the same thing every day, so sometimes you think he doesn't know what he's talking about. But when you hear the same thing from a higher-up, from guys in the NBA where you want to be say the same thing, okay maybe Coach is right.
"I knew Coach knew what he's talking about. He's been at it so long, he's been around a lot of NBA guys and been around the game so long, he knows what he's talking about. They said my basketball IQ was the highest they had out there, and that's a credit to Coach Weber.
"I set a flair screen, and they were surprised I knew how to do that. Coach Weber taught me all those things, and I just need to put my skills to good use and get better."
Weber is accustomed to this process, so he was able to take it in stride. But it is a necessary evil for college coaches.
"It's hard on programs, but it's also part of the process, and I've learned to deal with it. When you're a first-time coach going through it though, it is not easy. It's very much a distraction. I've talked to Matt Painter (Purdue coach) a lot in the last few weeks. This is one of his first times to really go through it.
"It makes it difficult on everybody. But am I in favor of it, yes. It gives it some organization instead of it becoming a circus it can be when it goes so long."
Weber doesn't feel the NBA considerations were a distraction to Davis and teammate Demetri McCamey or to their teammates during the recent spring workouts.
"I think in the long run, if they listened to the feedback I got and the feedback they told us they got from the NBA, it almost reinforces it. Are they gonna remember that and carry it on, I think that's the big thing. It was no distraction to be honest, except they and I have to answer questions. But they were very focused."
Weber feels this process will motivate Davis to work harder than ever on his game.
"With Mike, I've talked to his dad a lot. The most positive thing is he's been in the gym almost every day, beyond what we have done in the spring. So if anything, that was a positive for him. We lose, and he's in the weight room the next day when everybody else is on spring break. So there were some positive things about the whole thing."
Davis expects to work diligently on his game now that final exams are over.
"I'll go home for a month. I'll probably take a couple days off to get rested up and then get my mind back to it. I'll probably go to Georgetown like I always do and play with those guys. I'll be back probably mid June for summer school and get in the gym with Meechie (McCamey). He wants to work on some things with me he learned down in Houston, pick and roll stuff, some NBA stuff. Get better for next season."
Davis had similar plans last summer, but a broken bone in his foot set back his progress. He hopes to stay healthy this summer.
"Yeah. Before that I was shooting threes, I was getting to the basket, and I was moving with the ball pretty well. But I got hurt. When I was back to play it was already school year, so I didn't have time to work on my game. Hopefully this season God willing I won't get hurt so I can get better and show everybody what I can really do."
Davis has team as well as individual goals. The NCAA snub last season provides extra motivation.
"Definitely. We went to the NIT. I wasn't happy with it as I said at the time. But it will have carryover for the whole summer."
It also helps that NBA people emphasized the importance of winning.
"The guy in Portland told me, 'You've got to win. We want winners in our program.' Me, Meechie and (Mike) Tisdale talked about it, our main goal next season is win. We've won only one NCAA Tournament game since I've been here, and the man says we have to do that."
In that regard, Davis wants to do something special at Illinois despite the obvious strength of the Big 10.
"It was a tough league this year, and everybody pretty much is coming back. Purdue and Michigan State are probably 1, 2, or 3 in the country, and Ohio State's gonna be up there too with the guys they have coming in. Wisconsin will be super good with (Jon) Leuer coming back. It's gonna be a deep league again.
"It's no surprise. I'm ready for it. We want to win the league. I've done nothing to leave a legacy here so far for this school, and I want to do that. I want to be remembered as a guy who's in the record books and winning. I want to put a banner up, leave a mark. Come back to school and see '2010-2011 Big 10 Champs.'"
Davis is buoyed by the return of all five starters and the respect shown in early polls for next season.
"Definitely. Just getting in the polls is big for me, guys giving us some respect. We haven't really earned that since I've been here. I'm just excited. I want to keep working. I want to win. This season isn't about me or individual goals. I want to win next season, that's the main goal."
Whether Davis is disappointed not to be a high draft pick this year, he is looking to the future with enthusiasm.
"I just want to get some work in and help the team win."