IRVING, Texas -- It doesn’t take a genius to identify a coach. Most can spot one from a mile away. If taking a poll to determine whether or not a certain male or female is a coach, I would bet that most would accurately guess 70 to 80 percent of the time. Coaches just have that look, the voice, the upbeat personality in most cases, and the charisma that usually immediately identifies them.
Middle Tennessee State head coach Kermit Davis fits that mold. He has it naturally, literally. His Dad, Kermit Davis Sr., coached at Mississippi State from 1971 to 1977. Kermit Jr. started his coaching career at his alma mater of Mississippi State in 1982 and hasn’t looked back. So, it goes without saying that his identity as a head coach is sealed.
Davis has given 30 years of his life to the coaching profession, 19 as a head coach. Twelve of those nineteen have been at Middle Tennessee State where he is the all-time most winning basketball coach in school history with a gaudy record of 208 victories. The Blue Raiders finished the 2012-13 campaign 28-6 overall, 19-1 in Sun Belt Conference play, putting them in position to earn consecutive regular-season crowns. In fact, Davis’ teams have won the regular-season crown three of the last four seasons.
As a result, Davis was awarded with back-to-back Sun Belt Coach of the Year honors, 2012 and 2013. He also won it in 2003.
Winning breeds confidence which breeds great expectations. Davis has big expectations for this 2013 team which he hopes will somewhat mirror last season’s success.
“We had such a balanced team last year,” said Davis. “We only had one guy averaging double figures, so we played 11 guys. I’ve got six really good players coming back, two have started. But every one of them has started games before. They’ve averaged eight points, six points, five points, but did it in probably 16 to 18 minutes. That was just the makeup of our team.”
Just roster glancing, there’s only one player listed at 5-foot-10. The remaining players are 6-foot-1 and above. Six seniors are listed on the roster, along with four juniors, two sophomores, and three freshmen. The team averaged roughly 70.7 points per game.
“So, I like our team,” said Davis. “We do play with a physical-ness. They’re used to winning. They’ve won 55 games in two years and some championships. So we hope that carries over. We understand that we’ve got to recreate our identity. But expectations are high for our team and it’s something that we’re all trying to create, expectations and that’s a good thing.”
TAKING IT PERSONAL
Conference USA is new to Davis and Middle Tennessee State. However, Davis feels his team can and will compete in this newly realigned 16-team league.
“As a head coach, I take it really personal of us going into our league and really trying to get our program to show that we belong on a national level (with) what we’ve done over the last several years,” said Davis,
The last two seasons, MTSU has won at UCLA and Tennessee. They’ve also beaten Ole Miss twice. They’ve beaten Vanderbilt. If you’re keeping count, they’re 4-2 against the Southeastern Conference. But, there was a time when the team wasn’t winning and getting seats filled in the arena was a chore.
“I’ve been there twelve years, I’ve seen the program grow where nobody came to games until we led the league in attendance and gotten into and NCAA Tournament,” said Davis. “But, on the other hand, it’s a real high ceiling there. I mean there’s a lot of things that we can still accomplish. I hope our players will take note of that.”
A repeat, or something similar to last season, is the first order of business. However, like any coach or player, a conference championship or beyond could also be possibilities.
“I told them we’ve graduated three or four really good players,” said Davis. “Now, you’re going to be remembered as those player’s teammates. But, you have to recreate your identity this year and how is this class going to go out?”
Davis has a plethora of talented players with which to work and who will also be counted on to lead the way for the Blue Raiders.
“It starts with our point guard, Tweety Knight,” said Davis. “He’s a big physical guard and his nickname is Tweety. So, it doesn’t go together, OK? He used to have these little bitty tweety glasses, but now we got him contacts. But, he’s one of the most physical defending point guards in college basketball. I’ll put him up against anybody. He’s terrific.
“Kerry Hammonds has really started off and on for us for three years, two-guard about 6-foot-5, 210 pounds.”
Davis says to keep a lookout for 6-foot-8, 236 pound senior forward Shawn Jones from Miami. Jones averaged 8.5 points per game while producing roughly 5.5 boards per game.
“Maybe our leading scorer is a guy named Neiko Hunterwho played really well in the NCAA tournament last year. (He’s) about 6-foot-7.”
Davis will also be looking to 6-foot-4-inch North Carolina State transfer, Jaquan Raymond to help lead from the guard position. Their starter at power forward in 2012 was 6-foot-7-inch Jacquez Rozier, who suffered a left hand injury midway during the season and had to sit out. However, he’s back and that allows Davis to feel really good about his team.
“We’ve got a nice nucleus,” said Davis. “So, we‘ve got to get those guys to play well. And then, we’ve got a freshman on our campus named Reggie Upshaw who’s the best freshman talent we’ve ever had there.”
Upshaw averaged 22 points, 12 boards, four assists and three blocks as a high school senior. He also earned All-State and All-City honors. Upshaw’s athleticism was handed down from his dad according to Davis.
“(His) Dad played football at Middle (Tennessee State),” said Davis. “He’s (Reggie), about 6-foot-7, 225 and is a really, really good player. We expect good things out of Reggie and we’ll see how he progresses.”
That also goes for the rest of the team as they prepare to enter a new conference while recreating their identity as their first order of business.