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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Pursuing Pistol Pete: Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis is shooting to reach Maravich’s ‘unbreakable’ record

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The great news is it’s never gotten ugly. In the age of social media, Antoine Davis certainly has heard from basketball fans eager to remind him this is his fifth season, sort of, as a college basketball player and most players who scored fewer points – and the one guy who scored more – were permitted four or fewer.

When this season ends, though, the later the better, it will be his name that typed indelibly into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Record Book, not only among such names as Lionel Simmons, Hersey Hawkins, Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird, but above all of them. Where Davis will stand in relation to all-time scoring leader Pete Maravich is yet to be determined, but at the very least there will be little room between them.

This is how it looks right now:

1. Pete Maravich, LSU, 1967-70: 3,667 points.

2. Antoine Davis, Detroit Mercy, 2018-present: 3,288 points.

Try putting yourself into a daydream like that. Then remember the only thing that will change in that scenario, from now until he shoots his last basketball for the Titans next month, will be the number adjacent to Davis’ name – and possibly, however remote it might be, the order in which the two are listed.

“My phone consistently blows up on Twitter about Pete Maravich and me, and how he did it in three years and it took me five years to do it. I see it,” Antoine told The Sporting News. “If I let that get to me, if I let that bother me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I either look at it or don’t look at it, and if I look at it, I look at it as motivation.”

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One of the intriguing parallels between Maravich and Davis as they stand first and second on the list is that each was coached throughout college by his father. Press Maravich was head coach at LSU from 1966-72, leaving NC State after two successful seasons and taking his hotshot son with him to the SEC. Mike Davis previously coached Indiana to the 2002 NCAA championship game and UAB and Texas Southern to the NCAA Tournament; he has been at Detroit Mercy since 2018, which means Antoine has been the star of every one of his Titans teams.

Basketball entered a brief, blazing era when Maravich became eligible to play as an LSU sophomore in 1967. For a little more than a decade, such players as Austin Carr of Notre Dame, Johnny Neumann of Ole Miss, Bird Averitt of Pepperdine and Bo Lamar of Louisiana lit the smoky gyms of the day on fire with their prolific shot-making – and shot-taking.

From Maravich’s sophomore season until Freeman Williams completed his career at Portland State in 1978, every player who led NCAA Division I in scoring averaged at least 32.9 points. In the 75 years the NCAA has been recording the stat, there have been 32 players who led the nation in scoring with an average of 30 points or more. More than a third of them came in the Maravich era. It’s happened only twice in the past 25 years.’

Antoine Davis stands first in the country this season at 26.4 per game; with UAB’s Jelly Walker nearly three points back, Davis is likely to be this season’s scoring champion, although far short of Maravich’s record 44.5 per game in 1970.

 “I looked at his game log, and I’m not taking anything away from it, but there were times where he was shooting – one game, I think he shot like 45 times, 50 times,” Davis told TSN. “I just couldn’t, ever – like, I’d have to be really, really rolling to shoot like 40 shots.”

No coach in the modern game is likely to find players willing to defend and chase rebounds while a single teammate — no matter how good he might be, no matter if he is the coach’s son, even – fires more than 30 shots a game. 
Maravich’s average attempts per game during his career was 38.1. Davis is at 20.5 per game for his career and only once attempted 30, last Saturday on the day he passed Williams to become No. 2 in career scoring.

“I’m just enjoying this. I can’t really complain about this at all,” said Davis, who is 6-1, 165 pounds. “I look at it as: I’m No. 1 in my generation in scoring in NCAA history. I look at it like that. But I’m No. 2 all-time.”

NCAA all-time leading scorers
Name, School Years Points
1. Pete Maravich, LSU 1967-70 3,667
2. Antoine Davis, Detroit Mercy 2018-23 3,288
3. Freeman Williams, Portland State 1974-78 3,249
4. Chris Clemons, Campbell 2015-19 3,225
5. Lionel Simmons, La Salle 1986-90 3,217

Davis has played 132 games in five seasons because of the truncated 2020-21 season that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. UDM played 22 games that winter. The NCAA announced before that season all athletes who desired it would be granted an extra season of eligibility.

For Davis, that meant playing another year for his father and brother, assistant coach Mike Davis Jr. It also meant taking a shot at making history, and that’s exactly what has happened.

Antoine’s consistency might be the most remarkable aspect of his production. He has scored in double figures in every game of his career. His career high is “only” 48 points, which means he doesn’t have a few games here or there beefing up his production.

He began the year with 2,734 points, already good for 22nd on the alltime list. Just ahead of him were such greats as J.J. Redick of Duke, Allan Houston of Tennessee and Otis Birdsong of Houston. There would come a time when he would climb past Larry Bird of Indiana State, Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina and Danny Manning of Kansas.

This presented an opportunity for those following Antoine’s quest to learn something about college basketball history. Who were all these players whose names he was leaving behind? Mike Daum of South Dakota State, Doug McDermott of Creighton and Chris Clemons of Campbell all were recent stars, but the majority of the players have been on that list for decades.

“Some of the players on the list – obviously I knew Larry Bird and Doug McDermott, players like that,” Davis said. “I looked up Harry Kelly, because my dad coached at Texas Southern. And so I passed him, and I really loved Texas Southern. I always loved TSU. But I haven’t looked up all of the names.

“I used to watch Pete Maravich’s dribbling videos when I first started learning basketball and playing. I used to go on YouTube; my dad used to show me the drills there. And I’d go outside with a ball and just work on it.”

Another thing that connects Maravich and Davis is the inability to reach the NCAA Tournament. Fewer than 30 teams were making the tournament in the late 60s, so when LSU finished second in the Southeastern Conference at 13-5 – led by Dan Issel, champion Kentucky was 17-1 – the Tigers settled for the NIT. There are 68 getting in now, but the current Detroit team has struggled to excel, in part because of injuries that have cost forward Gerald Liddell 10 games and guard Jayden Stone eight games.

Liddell is the team’s No. 2 scorer and by far the leading rebounder, and Stone is third in scoring, second in rebounding and shooting above 50 percent from 3-point range. Even without a full group, though, they lost at Horizon League co-leader Northern Kentucky by two points, against co-leader Milwaukee by three and contender Youngstown State by 5. They are 4-6 in the league, 8-13 overall, but could be dangerous in the league tournament if fully healthy by then.

The beauty of Davis’ pursuit of Maravich is the potential for success is, ultimately, intrinsically connected to the chase for a position in March Madness.

The farther the Titans advance, the better chance Davis has of catching Maravich. The difference between the two now stands at 379 points. The schedule provides Davis with a guarantee of 11 more games: 10 in the regular season starting Friday night at Robert Morris and at least one game in the Horizon tournament.

If that’s all there is, Davis would need to average 31.7 points in those dozen games to relegate Maravich to second. With each game the Titans win in the Horizon tournament, though, the number would become less daunting. Currently tied for seventh in the league, they could play as many as four games by continuing to advance. If they were to reach the final, Davis would need to average 27 points between now and then to become the NCAA career leader. His average for the season is 26.4.

“I think our talent level is right there, and it’s proven, with guys being out and the games still being close,” Mike Davis told TSN. “We’ve had three starters out before. Normally, you’ve got no chance in a game, but we still had every opportunity to win the games.”

What Antoine has been able to achieve this season has been even remarkable given their absence, which made it less risky to gang up on him defensively. Mike Davis said that when Antoine was held to 14 points in a loss this week to Oakland, one of only three games this season in which he failed to reach 20 points, there were multiple defenders running at him every time he touched the ball.

“That’s what they’re doing: doubling, sending guys at him, making sure they get the ball out of his hands, trapping him,” Mike Davis said. “When you watch any games – nobody in the country is being defended like that. Even when we play Power 5 schools, they play him that way. They make him give it up. They overhelp on everything.

“That’s how I know what he’s doing is kind of crazy. For him to have the 3,000 points he has, it’s amazing. I don’t even watch opponents’ games anymore and watch how they defend certain actions, because they’re not going to do that same thing against us.”

Though perhaps not to the same degree as Maravich, considered a wizard with the basketball from his teenage years on through his 11 seasons in the NBA, Davis has produced as a passer despite his role as UDM’s primary offensive option. Mike Davis is proud Antoine, who has a career average of 4.1 assists per game, has at least a slight chance to become the career assists leader at the school that produced Dave DeBusschere, Terry Long, Rashad Phillips, and Ray McCallum Jr.

Antoine is at 545, 70 behind leader Kevin McAdoo, who completed his career in 1988. He’d need even more games at his current assists rate to pass McAdoo than he would to catch Maravich in points, but it’s hard to say he’s only been a shooter when he has that stat on his resume.

“In recruiting, people are like, ‘Well, it’s daddy ball. He’s going to shoot all the balls’,” Mike Davis said. “But, if you do your research: Everybody who comes here, their average goes up. The analytic people will tell you how much you improve playing with him. But when people recruit against you, they say this and that … But he has over 500 assists. How many point guards who don’t even shoot the ball get 500 assists?”

It’s often noted Maravich played in an era with no 3-point shot. But it almost seems as though Antoine has played when few fouls are being called.

Although he has been in control of the basketball so often, and though 1,289 of his 2,705 shots have been from 2-point range, he has attempted only 635 free throws. Which is too bad, because he’s a career 89 percent shooter. He has averaged fewer than 5 foul shots per game in four of his five seasons. Maravich never averaged fewer than 10. In one game against Oregon State, Maravich was 30-of-31 from the foul line.

Mike Davis, Antoine Davis

Although Mike Davis has been unable to convince officials to call more fouls when his son attacks the basket, he will acknowledge he has been tough on Antoine as he grew up in the game. His connections as a Division I coach got Antoine the chance to work with such all-time great players as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and to train under former NBA head coach John Lucas.

Mike did a lot of the coaching himself, though. He said there were months where Antoine would play 3,000 games of one-on-one, always on offense. There were 18 different weeks in which Antoine got up 30,000 shots.

“The most shots we ever took in one day was like 10,000 shots,” Mike said. “When you hear the phrase, ‘Preparation and opportunity = success,’ but no one really analyzes your preparation.’ I heard about Kobe doing 100 possessions of one-on-one, so I took it to another level, and he was doing it six days a week.

“I did so much research on greatness. I researched Michael Phelps, and he went five straight years where he only missed three days of practice.  Five years! I researched Kobe Bryant … I wanted to seek information from great people. So it gave me the OK to work with him.

“Most parents will say: I’m not going to work with him until he comes with me and he wants to do it. Well, I thought about that. If you see something in him – I read a book – if you see something in your kid, why not get the best out of him? Was I too hard on him? I was definitely too hard on him at times. I feel bad for him now, but we have the best relationship that we’ve ever had.

“You know how intense I can be.”

Mike Davis acknowledged being too hard on Antoine in this season’s first D-I game, a road trip to Boston College. “Really hard, like embarrassing for me hard,” Mike said. Then, his wife Tamilya called and reminded Mike and their son this sport is supposed to be fun.

“They should do a book on her and how she mediates,” Mike said. “I thought, ‘You’re right. I love my son, he loves me. He tolerated me from the seventh grade on to where he is now. He’s more than capable of being a really good basketball player. If he does nothing else from this point on, he’ll do more than most college players will ever do in a lifetime.

“So from that game on … we talk, we hug after every game. We talk to each other on the phone. This has been great for me. Like a great comeback with our relationship. He said he wants to be a skills trainer when he’s done playing. And my point: Don’t be like me.”

Mike Davis hasn’t done too badly, though. Only Press Maravich, so far, raised and coached a more prolific Division I scorer.

“Pistol Pete? In my lifetime, that’s untouchable,” Mike Davis said. “Like I tell him all the time: Pistol Pete’s record is Pistol Pete’s record. Pistol was special. For you to be the one person that’s right behind him, that’s special.”

The most obvious difference that remains between Pistol Pete Maravich and Antoine Davis is that glorious nickname that has endured for six decades, beyond Maravich’s Hall of Fame career and then his tragic death from a heart attack in 1988. Around the game, one needs to say no more than “Pistol” for everyone to understand the subject of the conversation.

“I don’t have a nickname,” Antoine said. “I’m just Twan or Antoine.”

It’s just Pete Maravich on Wikipedia under “List of NCAA Division I men’s basketball career scoring leaders”, at the very  top that chart. Antoine Davis is the closest player to him and will be for a long time, one way or the other.

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