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Mike Lopresti | | January 23, 2023

Detroit Mercy's Antoine Davis, coach Mike enjoying the father-son moments as star chases 'Pistol Pete' Maravich

The first March Madness men's bracket predictions of 2023, by Andy Katz

INDIANAPOLIS — Friday night . . .

The photo shows a happy interlude from long ago: A coach walking off the court after his team had just won in the 2002 NCAA tournament, holding his three-year-old son in his arms. Both are smiling, each looking a different direction, soaking in the scene and the moment.

On the left, Indiana coach Mike Davis. On the right, little Antoine in his red Hoosier uniform.

Twenty-one years later, Mike Davis is sitting in a hotel lobby. He is here with his Detroit Mercy Titans, who the next day will play IUPUI. They will try to win another Horizon League game, and there is something else on the to-do list. That little guy in red is now a fifth-year senior, and the next day he has a great chance to become the second-most prolific scorer in the history of Division I basketball. Once he does, only Pete Maravich will remain to pursue. Davis already has more 3-pointers than any collegian who ever lived. His father tries to process the journey.

“Coming down here I was going through my pictures and I came across a video, we were playing Illinois (while at Indiana) and he was sitting behind the bench and Billy Packer was talking about him. That’s Antoine Davis, he’s got a bright future ahead of him.

“I reflect on those days because who could have saw then what’s going on now?”

HISTORY: Antoine Davis moves into second on DI men's basketball's career scoring charts

His son comes by the hotel lobby, on his way to dinner and then a film session. He won’t have many more weekends like this. Not with his father.

“This is something different,” Antoine says. “This is not just a player playing for his coach, it’s a son playing for his dad. It’s just really special to be a part of.”

They know what’s coming from any interview, of course; questions about all those records, wondering whether he truly has a shot at Maravich 400 points off in the distance. But first, how about this: Mike Davis was once Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama and a productive college player for the Crimson Tide. How goes it when it’s son vs. father on the court?

Forget any one-on-one. That stopped years ago. But there still be might be the occasional game of h-o-r-s-e. “I get a handicap,” Mike Davis says. “Sometimes he has to make five shots to my one.”

These are two men having the time of their lives as they go about trying to win games and chase records, understanding it won’t last forever. “It feels like a dream sometimes, doing what I do, enjoying it, just having fun,” Antoine says. “A lot of people can’t experience what I’m experiencing right now. I don’t take it for granted.”

Saturday . . .

The Indiana Farmers Coliseum crowd is sparse. IUPUI basketball isn’t a hot item at the gate so if Antoine is to pass Freeman Williams — a Portland State star from the 1970s — and move into second, he will do it in relative quiet here at the State Fairgrounds. The Indianapolis Home Show at the Expo Hall next door is drawing a bigger audience. But then, his career has been a lightly-attended phenomenon. Detroit Mercy’s average crowd this season is 1,586.

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The Titans are warming up at one end, and fans wanting to get a look at the Detroit Point Machine are likely taken aback. Yes, that’s him, the skinny little guy wearing a face mask, protecting a broken nose from a month ago. Davis is 6-foot and not much more, and looks slender enough to bend in a good Midwestern winter wind gust. He had talked about that the night before.

“I’ve always been the shortest. I just keep proving you don’t have to be 6-5 or 6-6 to play this game. You just work, work, work as hard as you can.”

His father understands.

“He’s the one guy that when you walk in the gym, you ask him where are they playing basketball, not thinking he’s even a basketball player. You see on their faces … That’s him? That little guy right there?

“He’s like that little kid in the choir who’s singing a solo. You look at him and think, oh that’s going to be a cute little kid.' But once you go up and down the court a couple of times, once that voice comes out, it’s like Lionel Richie or Luther Vandross or someone that’s really a powerful singer.”

The game begins and the little guy in the mask needs 18 points to pass Williams. You can quickly tell he’s going to get there in a hurry. As the father promised, his son’s voice comes out, and it’s thunderous. The entire Antoine Davis package is on display in a flurry of early baskets.

A pull-up jumper . . . a 3-pointer from the next zip code . . . a cross-over dribble and drive . . . a scoop off a baseline move . . . a soft fadeaway. The first-half clock reads 5:43 when he gets a pass on the right wing and fires up from long. He buries it, holding his form for just an instant, giving him 19 points in the first 14:17.

It is his 516h career 3-pointer, but he already has that NCAA record, going by Wofford’s Fletcher Magee earlier in the week. It also gives him 3,251 points, sending him past Williams, who died nine months ago. Davis is the new No. 2.

There is no notice, no announcement. The game goes on.

IUPUI stays close, even nudges into the lead, but in the end there is way too much Antoine Davis. Detroit Mercy wins 89-77 and Davis finishes with 42 points, his sixth 40-plus career game, of which the Titans have won them all. Here’s another feat: He’s the first player in more than 40 years to score 40 points in a game in four different seasons.

And another (this could go on all day): Saturday is Davis’ 131st career game. He has scored at least 10 points in all 131, a new record for consecutive double-figure games. Five more and he’ll pass Doug McDermott’s career mark at Creighton. That’s remarkable given all the do-something-about-Davis defenses he has faced.

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Such is the product of a young life spent in the relentless pursuit of excellence on the basketball court. When he was little, he worshiped his dad’s Hoosiers, Jared Jeffries most of all. There is a reason the child in that photo is wearing No. 1. That was Jeffries’ number. But Jeffries was listed at 6-10 and Antoine Davis certainly wasn’t going to be that. He noticed another legendary player known for his slick ways with the basketball, watched the dazzling moves and deft dribbling and took them to his own playground court of dreams.

Pete Maravich, the ghost he now chases.

Plus, Antoine worked. His dad made sure of that.

“At first it didn’t make sense to him all, the work he was putting in,” Mike Davis says. “Once got a chance to use it in a game, he started to believe the work he put in made sense. We shot 10,000 shots in one day. Took 30,000 shots in a week. We did that like 18 different times.”

Both the Davis guys, father and son, had friends wondering about putting in all that time. Mike heard them, but had his own ideas.

“Your friends have another interpretation of greatness. But then you read up on a guy like Michael Phelps, who said that he went five straight years and only missed three days (practice) in five years. You get so caught up in the emotion of what your friends are saying instead of what greatness is saying. And greatness will tell you. When you look at a great painter, a great musician, a great singer, a great anything, they’ll tell you the time they put in.

“I saw greatness from those people and I tried to instill it in him, the way they worked.”

So he was hard on his son. Maybe, by his own admission, too hard, even this very season.

“Our relationship has grown so much this year. I used to always push, push push. The first game this year I pushed him so hard because I felt like I wanted him to be the best he could be. He really struggled that game (6-for-19 and only 15 points at Boston College). Sitting on the plane, he really wasn’t talking to me. After that game his mom said, `Let everybody have their own records. Let Pistol Pete have his record, let Fletcher Magee have his record. Because life is way more important than those records. What you’ve done in college basketball right now is a lot, so if you don’t break any records at all you’ve done a lot.’

“That made me get emotional and think, this is my son, I love him, let him enjoy his last year without his dad pushing, pushing, pushing.

”Now, I can coach him and have fun coaching him.”

BRACKETOLOGY: Andy Katz's first March Madness men's bracket predictions of 2023

And also take the foot off the pedal sometimes. This season, his son gets Sundays off.

Antoine remembers that passage, too.

“I think he was just anxious for me to break the record, so anxious for me to do great, he doesn’t want me to do bad. He’s my dad.”

The Detroit Mercy family has fun this particular Saturday. When the final buzzer sounds, Antoine playfully tosses the ball to IUPUI courtside students, so one of them can hoist up a long 3-pointer. Then he goes over to hug his mother and grandmother, and greet and pose for pictures with fans.

“It’s special to have your family around. It’s good to be back where it all started for the most part,” he says, remembering those days an hour down the road at Indiana, rooting for Jeffries and the Hoosiers.

About that first-half 3-pointer when he passed Williams, did he even understand it had happened?

“Kinda, sorta, but I was just in the zone.”

But every person in that Detroit section knew.

The future . . .

In the final weeks, there is still much to accomplish. His 27-point average leads the nation, for example. Is there a season scoring title in his future? He has finished third three times and fourth once. “I really haven’t even thought about that one,” he says.

It is a curious prize at that, not necessarily suggesting a team’s success. Kansas’ Clyde Lovellette is the only scoring champion to win a national title the same year and that was 1952. Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson is the last scoring champion to get to the Final Four and that was 62 years ago. But it would be nice for the Detroit Mercy program that has had only one individual stat champion; Spencer Haywood with his 22.1 rebounds in 1969.

Davis will very likely accomplish something that must be unprecedented in college basketball — win his conference’s scoring title five times.

But back to the big one. On the NCAA career scoring list, every man who has played major college basketball is in his rearview mirror. All but one. What about Maravich? “The Pistol Pete thing is crazy,” Mike Davis says.

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Maravich is 393 points away. If Detroit Mercy plays the minimum — 11 more regular season games and one-and-done in the Horizon League tournament — Davis would need to average nearly 33 points a game to reach him. The Titans are hoping for more, to last a while in the league tournament, maybe even get to the postseason. They’re 8-12, but Davis said his team is finally getting healthy; 11 different players have started a game. Detroit Mercy does not seem far off the best in the league. The Titans recently played co-leaders Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky and Youngstown State over 13 days and lost to them all — but by three, two in overtime and five.

A conference tournament title and the NCAA tournament bid it would produce is the vision they they see. Davis originally announced for the transfer portal his final season, and the recruiters poured in. Then he changed his mind, he has said, for the chance to get his team and his father to the NCAA tournament. “That’s what he came back for,” Mike says. Antoine has said he would trade any record for a chance to finally play in March Madness.

Still, Maravich is getting larger on the horizon.

“Everything is possible when you put God’s name first,” Mike says. “That’s the message of this whole deal. If we get Pistol Pete, it’s God wanting us to do it. If we don’t get it, what a blessing to be where we are right now. What a blessing to share it with some parents who don’t think their kid’s good. Antoine wasn’t good. He got cut off his seventh-grade team. He’s been one of those guys who’s had to work harder than other people just to be in the same gym.”

There are some obvious similarities between Maravich and Davis. Both played for their fathers in college. Neither played in the NCAA tournament. Then the comparisons get complicated.

Maravich had no 3-pointer or shot clock and played only three seasons and 83 games, since freshmen were ineligible. The 3-pointer might have made his scoring numbers positively supernatural, if they aren’t already. Davis has scored 40 points six times? Maravich averaged 44.2. He hit 50 or more in a game 28 times.

Apparently one theory on how to slow him down was to foul him. Davis has shot 629 free throws in his five seasons. Maravich had 1,152 in three years. Davis has a considerably better percentage — 89 to 77.5 percent — though in one game Maravich went 30-for-31 from the line.

So Davis has some major rule advantages; his 521 3-pointers to Maravich's none, the extra COVID year and the freshman season. But he has had some things go against him as well. Detroit Mercy lost 15 games during his career, mostly to the pandemic and once to wildfires in California, Plus, he has built his total taking 21 shots a game. Maravich put it up an average of 38 times a game.

What’s notable is both big scorers were willing and able to pass. Maravich remains No. 5 on the LSU career assist list. He either scored or passed to set up 60.4 percent of Tiger field goals during his career. Davis is one of only two players with 3,000 points and 500 assists.

So the final chase is one. Who’s following the countdown?

Not Antoine Davis.

“I’m just having fun, soaking in everything, enjoying being out there with my teammates.”

Same for his dad on the bench. They don’t hope to pass Maravich as much as they yearn to see March. It’s a basketball family fairy tale that in some ways began with a picture of a little boy in red from two decades ago, and is now ready for its last chapter.

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