The 2 A.J.’s
Posted: February 5, 2013
HARRISONBURG — He has both dunked his way onto SportsCenter and played his way onto the James Madison basketball team’s bench.
He’s scored both 30 points in a game for the Dukes last year and zero in two others this season.
He’s one of the first names on opposing coaches’ scouting reports, and to his own boss, Matt Brady, “one of the great coaching puzzles of my entire career.”
He is high-flying swingman A.J. Davis, and he might be the most influential player in the final month of the season for JMU (13-11 overall, 7-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association).
“I just had a long conversation [with him] that if we’re going to take this thing to another level, whether he [wants the responsibility or not], it is what it is: we need a fifth-year senior to step up,” Brady said Monday of Davis, the mystifying Wyoming transfer who is averaging 8.5 points and can both shoot the Dukes into or out of a game.
At times, Davis uses his 6-foot-6, 210-pound body of muscle to push the limits of kinetics, like in the last three home games when he delivered memorable dunks — a two-hander down the lane against Delaware, a tomahawk over an Old Dominion defender, and an alley-oop against George Mason that was highlighted on ESPN.
Other times, he appears disinterested, waiting motionless on the perimeter until he receives the ball.
With fifth-year seniors Devon Moore and Rayshawn Goins producing fairly consistently, and the group of four freshmen contributing more often than typical rookies, the Dukes might be one dependable scoring threat away from being a dangerous offensive team. Senior forward Andrey Semenov can’t be that guy because of an ankle injury that’s sidelined him since Jan. 2.
Davis isn’t that guy because… Well, why not?
The Conundrum Of A.J. is that Brady both believes that the player is JMU’s missing piece but does not have faith that Davis will properly fit into the puzzle.
“Devon is emerging, Rayshawn is a guy that can get 12 to 15 in a game. We’re missing a third scorer,” Brady said. … If we had a consistent third scorer, I would feel great about our team. But our consistent third scorer has typically been a freshman. I can’t expect it to be A.J. Davis. If we catch lightning in a bottle, and A.J. goes for 15 the next seven games, we might have the best team in the league. But I’m not expecting that.”
A distinct disconnect damages the lines of communication between Brady and Davis. The situation reached its nadir in late November and still hasn’t fully fixed itself.
Brady says he wants the veteran Davis to be the Dukes’ third option. Davis says he’d like to be that guy, but it’s not necessary.
“I really don’t need to do anything, because if it’s not me it could be Andre Nation, it could be Ron Curry, it could be Charles Cooke, it could be Taylor Bessick. It could be Enoch Hood,” Davis said, listing four freshmen and then a sophomore. “There’s really no one guy that you can insert into that third position, because any given night, anybody can go, as we’ve shown in different games. Four of us can be in double figures, one or two of us. So what Coach is saying really doesn’t matter; at any given time, you can insert anybody at that third scoring position and everybody is fine with that.”
But, as a senior, should it be you more often than not?
“You can say that, but that’s not the way Coach is calling it,” Davis said. “If it’s a freshman he’s calling it for, then it’s a freshman. If it’s a fifth-year senior or walk-on, then it is what it is. I mean it would be nice if I were that third guy, but we’re having a nice season; everything is flowing. It’s not about one guy; it’s about us as a team. That’s our biggest thing. We don’t really care who’s in double-figures or anything like that. We just want to win at the end of the day.”
Davis has proven that he’s capable of scoring 15 per game — he averaged a team-best 15.9 last year on 43.7 percent shooting — but that was in a losing setting. He tallied 20-plus points 11 times in a 12-20 season. Davis — who reached the 1,000-point career mark (including two seasons at Wyoming) last week —played 32.4 minutes per game last year. This year, he’s logging just 19.7. And it’s not because of a lack of talent.
The lightly bearded sociology major’s gifts go beyond his ability to coast in the air for jams. After practice one day last month, Davis, sitting in a chair on the sideline roughly 40 feet from the basket, asked a teammate for a basketball, sank a shot while still in the seat, and reacted nonchalantly, as if he’d made a mere free throw.
He’s the strongest guard on the team and one of the fastest, too. He can handle the ball with ease and has the ability to heat up from 3-point range.
But JMU doesn’t see the full package often enough.
Brady aggressively tried to discipline Davis this season, first benching him in late November and then suspending him for the first game of December. Brady challenged Davis to play harder, select better shots and lead the younger players.
Davis hasn’t stepped up so much as rolled with the punches, saying he’s willing to do whatever the coaches ask of him in order to help the team win.
Last week, Brady said that if Davis were a tougher defender, he’d leave him in the game rather than benching him so often. That message, it appears, got through. Asked how he can make JMU more successful down the stretch, Davis answered, “Be consistent on both ends of the court. If I’m not scoring on the offensive end, be consistent on the defensive end.”
The two seem to be jointed for Davis, whose all-around effort and awareness peaks when his shots are splashing through the net. And when Davis is scoring, the Dukes are successful. They are 5-2 when he contributes more than 10 points in a game this season.
“Pretty much I think we’re at our best when he’s rolling,” Goins said.