Terence Davis has been trying to prove he can play basketball at the highest level since high school. In many ways, the last two months have been a microcosm of that quest.
Since the 6-foot-4 Davis played his last game for Ole Miss in March, his odyssey has included making the all-tournament at the Portsmouth Invitational, barely claiming a spot in the G League Elite Camp, playing well enough there to be invited to the NBA’s Chicago Combine, and then crisscrossing the country for workouts with league teams. Golden State and Boston have asked him back for command performances, underscoring his rise up draft boards and bringing him a step closer to his goal of making an NBA roster.
Some people who know Davis best have no doubt he’ll accomplish that goal.
“I know one thing,” says Kermit Davis, who took over at Ole Miss in 2018 and coached Davis for just one season. “TD is going to know exactly what his job is [in the NBA]. It doesn’t matter what role they put him in, he’s going to accept it. That’s a big part of his success. He’s going to live in the gym and hang on every word they say. There’s no doubt he’s talented enough to play in the NBA.”
Basketball has always been Terence Davis’ first love. He started playing the game at age six, and though he later became a star high school football player in his native Mississippi who was good enough to earn 20 scholarship offers from power conference schools, he decided basketball was the sport he would pursue in college.
“When I made that decision, there was a lot of backlash from people I knew, people I grew up with,” Davis says. “My high school coaches all thought I was going to choose football. A lot of people did. I was a 6-4 wide receiver with long arms and huge hands who could catch everything that came my way. Why wouldn’t I play football?”
The answer to that question lies in some advice Davis’ father gave him: Don’t take the easy way out.
Football came so naturally to his son that Terence Davis, Sr. viewed playing that sport in college as less of a challenge than basketball. So when former Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy offered a scholarship, Davis’ choice was clear. Then came his freshman season, during which he played in 19 games and averaged 6.9 minutes and 1.9 points.
“After I didn’t play much my freshman year, I thought, did I choose the wrong sport?” Davis says. “Were people right about football? Did I make a mistake?”
That self-doubt quickly gave way to a moment of clarity.
He’s going to live in the gym and hang on every word they say. There’s no doubt he’s talented enough to play in the NBA.
Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis on Terence Davis
“It was gut check time for me,” Davis says. “I couldn’t let all those people [who thought he should play college football] be right. I’m going to put all my time and effort into basketball.”
Kennedy’s advice to Davis was to become what the coach called a “ball getter.”
“I told him if he was going to get better, he had to become versatile,” Kennedy says. “Go get a steal. Block a shot. You ought to be able to guard people 5-11 to 6-7. Be efficient. Be active. His activity level is what eventually separated him.”
In Davis’ sophomore season, he was one of the most improved players in the country, tacking 13 points onto his scoring average. During a three-game stretch against Auburn, LSU and Arkansas, he averaged 27.7 points. In an NIT game at Syracuse, Davis delivered 30 points on 6-for-7 3-pointers in an upset Ole Miss victory.
Davis’ production fell back as a junior as Kennedy, who had spent 12 seasons turning Ole Miss into a respectable program, struggled to get his team untracked from a puzzling losing streak and decided to resign midway through the 2017-18 season. Kennedy was replaced by Kermit Davis, a stickler for the game’s basics.
“We all knew he could score, and that he was a great athlete,” Kermit Davis says. “We talked about him being an elite defender. I thought he could be one of the best rebounding guards in the country. He did that and more. He improved in every area, just continuing the progress he’d made under Andy.”
Davis finished second on his team in scoring (15.2) and led the Rebels in rebounding and assists. He was second in steals and blocks and shot a career-best 37.1 from 3-point range. Most important, Davis helped lead Ole Miss to the NCAA tournament. It was a fitting end to a career that justified his decision to bypass football.
The days since Davis’ college career ended have not been dull. After mulling over the decision to attend the Portsmouth Invitational with his agent, Adam Pensack, Davis eventually decided to go and show the attending NBA personnel what he could do. Davis made the all-tournament team, saving his best game for the last day of the competition.
“He finished with a bang,” Pensack says. “But unfortunately, by the last day of Portsmouth, a lot of scouts typically are gone. No one was there to see it.”
That could explain why Davis didn’t get an invitation to the G League Elite Camp.
“When the official list came out and I wasn’t on it, I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of hurt,” Davis says. “I looked at that list and thought to myself, ‘I know there are guys on here that I’m better than.’ ”
Undaunted, Davis ramped up his workout regimen. And Pensack bombarded Wesley Harris, the NBA’s director of basketball operations, and Harris’ G League counterpart Steve Neff with texts and emails. Pensack isn’t sure why, but eventually Davis was extended an invitation to the G League Camp. Davis graduated from Ole Miss on May 11 and the next day headed for Chicago, where he gained more admirers. “A lot of teams said he was the best player there,” Pensack says.
Davis’ play earned him a spot in the Chicago Combine, where he again played well. On the second day of scrimmages, he scored a camp-high 19 points. Since then, he’s worked out for seven NBA teams; six more workouts are set between now and Draft day, and Boston and Golden State have asked to see him a second time.
Barring a trade, the Celtics have three first-round picks. Golden State, which could use a scorer off the bench, has the No. 28 pick.
Could Davis’ play during the last two months have vaulted him into the first round?
“That wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Kermit Davis says. “He lives in the gym. He’s spent countless hours in there, by himself. He worked his tail off in practice. Right now, he’s getting what he deserves.”
Kennedy, who spent last season as a broadcaster, has fielded several calls from NBA teams about Terence Davis. “Mainly stuff like, is he a responsible kid, is he a mature kid,” Kennedy says. “You can’t bring in a 22-year-old still working on maturity issues.”
Kennedy answers those questions in the affirmative. And he’s added some extra input.
“He’s tough enough,” Kennedy says. “He’s an NBA player. You can put him in an NBA practice today and he’s going to compete and be fine. If he were 6-7, it would be a no brainer. At 6-4, his skill level is not quite at the elite level. He’s got to be able to make that up in other ways.”
Davis has been working on that.
“I think his skill level is maybe a little bit undervalued,” says Ole Miss assistant coach Ronnie Hamilton. “I don’t think he’s a point guard per se, but he can play with the ball in his hands. We gave him the responsibility to read the defense and make plays for us. He’s got a good enough basketball IQ and feel to be a combo guard.”
Davis also thinks he can defend in the NBA.
“The main thing I want to show teams is I can be a defensive guy,” Davis says. “I can be a 3 and D guy, but for me, the D comes before the 3. If I want to play at the next level right away, that’s got to be my main focus.”
Regardless of how Davis’ journey ends, his story could serve as a blueprint for future undervalued NBA prospects seeking to barge their way onto a roster.
“If I were telling guys like that what they could learn from my story, I’d just say, always believe in yourself,” Davis says. “You know more than anyone else what you’re capable of doing. For me, just putting my head down and going to work has brought me a long way.”
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