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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Andy Katz on UAB's Mike Davis

Davis at peace as he starts up at UAB

By Andy Katz ESPN.com

The two phone conversations couldn't have been more different.

In February, Mike Davis was distraught. He was literally ill. He was also sick of the negativity he said he felt around Indiana's program.

Unbeknownst to this reporter at the time of the call, Davis already had initiated talks with Indiana president Adam Herbert about resigning at the end of the season. That day, when he sat out the Iowa game in Bloomington, Ind., was the lowest this reporter had heard him since he was picked as Bob Knight's successor in 2000.

Now, cut to this week, as he is preparing UAB, his new program, for a Labor Day weekend trip to the Bahamas. This is a different Davis. He is relaxed. He is incredibly comfortable. His infectious smile is almost visible through the phone. You can feel his enthusiasm and his overall comfort in life.

His departure from Indiana and his arrival at UAB, in his home state of Alabama (he's a former 'Bama player from 1980-83), at a program fresh off three straight NCAA Tournament appearances with a burgeoning fan base and a real enthusiasm for his presence, has changed his professional life like no other elixir.

"I'm sleeping better, everything is wonderful," Davis said. "It's a complete change. I'm just coaching basketball.

"The Indiana thing really helped me, and I was a better coach because of it," Davis said. "[Indiana] gave me a chance to lead a program."

Davis was no slouch in Bloomington. After taking over for legendary coach Bob Knight, Davis coached Indiana to the 2002 national title game and went to four NCAA Tournaments in six seasons. He averaged 19.2 wins per year and may have done his best coaching job in the final weeks of his era, getting the lost Hoosiers to find their footing after his resignation was announced and win at Michigan to close the regular season, essentially clinching an NCAA Tournament berth for IU and possibly nixing one for the Wolverines.

When Mike Anderson went from UAB to Missouri, there really was no other choice for the Blazers. Davis made more sense for this job than any other name that popped up on the coaching carousel.

Davis isn't going to play the 40 minutes of craziness that Anderson employed, but that's OK. Most of that team -- led by the irreplaceable Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson -- is gone, anyway. The Blazers return only six players from a team that lost to Kentucky by five in the NCAA Tournament's first round. Three of them were part-time starters (Frank Holmes, Lawrence Kinnard and Wen Mukubu), while the other three were role players.

Davis and the previous Anderson staff brought in a combined nine newcomers. Three are practicing this week with the Blazers but won't be going on the trip to the Bahamas; two of those three will be the face of UAB's program next year when Davis plans to challenge Memphis for the league title -- transfers Robert Vaden (the former Indiana guard) and Walter Sharpe (the former Mississippi State forward). The third is Davis' son, Mike Davis Jr.

"Robert is taking 1,000 shots a day and he's making a bunch," Davis said. "Sharpe looks really good. Every day those guys will be competing on our scout team. I'm not sure there are any better guys sitting out than those two on a team in the country. Next year, we'll have everybody back essentially, with Vaden and Sharpe, and that's scary."

The current crew should get a big lift from former Oklahoma signee Jeremy Mayfield, 6-foot-10 forward. Davis said the Blazers are expecting to hear on his eligibility this week. Mayfield went to God's Academy (Texas), which was on the NCAA diploma mill list, and is getting his transcript run through the NCAA clearinghouse to ensure it's OK before he's cleared.

If Mayfield is good to go, the Blazers have the necessary big man to challenge in C-USA. Expect Davis to play mainly a half-court style, like he did with Marco Killingsworth and D.J. White at Indiana, but the Blazers won't ignore the break totally.

The early practices at UAB this week will be more like an NBA preseason. They are getting introduced to each other, putting in some basic plays and doing some conditioning so they're ready to compete over Labor Day. Once they reconvene in October, they'll address more detailed areas of concern and put in more of Davis' system.

For now, Davis is pleased with the roster's athleticism and strength and the overall attitude of a place that he sees as becoming "big-time."

"This is perfect for me here," said Davis, who didn't want to talk about the ongoing issues at IU with his successor, Kelvin Sampson. "I couldn't have written a better script. I couldn't have been in a better place. This is where I'm from. The people don't bother you at all here. Everything is positive.

"This is where I want to be," Davis said. "I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to be right here."

Davis contributed to his turbulent times at Indiana; he made self-deprecating statements about his coaching ability and sometimes had a loose temper with officials. Of course, his team's erratic offensive output that led to interminable scoring droughts didn't help. But the constant questioning, even six years after he got the job, clearly got to him and the program.

Now he's earned a fresh start, and he's never sounded more at ease.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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