Chance encounter, injury recoveries define Eddie Davis III's career
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Sometimes you do not know when your life will change in an instant. Southern Miss redshirt-junior forward Eddie Davis III knows it all too well, from his final game as a recruit to becoming an upperclassman.
Rewind to Summer 2014.
"At the time, I was actually committed to a junior college," Davis said. "I was about to sign the papers but decided to play the AAU circuit (in Las Vegas) and finish it out and see what would happen. In my last game, Coach [Doc] Sadler offered me. I scored like 26 points and had 14 rebounds, three blocks, just a lot of energy being my last AAU game and against high schoolers."
It was an equally-chance encounter for Sadler.
"It was my last day of recruiting, and I was just in the gym watching a lot of guys playing," Sadler said. "I didn't even go there to watch him play. He did real well and I knew we needed a guy like that. We had a player at Iowa State named Georges Niang who I thought Eddie could be like, and Eddie just shot the ball so well. With the offense we were running, I felt he could fit in with that. We were both fortunate I was at that last game."
Davis was signed, sealed and delivered to Hattiesburg, where he admits he knew almost nothing about the school besides watching one of the team's recent NIT games.
Fast-forward to November 17, 2014, when the Golden Eagles were taking on Troy in Reed Green Coliseum.
"I tore my labrum and bicep tendon," Davis said. "I didn't know it would be for the year, because I didn't know much about shoulder dislocations, but I knew then that something was wrong with the left shoulder. After that, I was just at home working on my studies."
Times were tough as Davis was forced to rehab his injury all the way into the following July. But a new year was ahead. Then, deja vu on Dec. 1, 2015, also against Troy.
"I played nine games and had a stress fracture in my foot," Davis said. "My foot didn't feel right. We did x-rays and that's when I knew my best option was to sit out for the year. He said I'd most likely break it if I kept playing on it."
It devastated the young gun, who felt he was finally coming around not only health-wise, but in his performance too.
"What made it different was the first year I wasn't quite in the main rotation," Davis said. "I really was in a groove my sophomore year, scoring and feeling good about myself. It was like climbing a mountain and getting set back 20 feet and trying to start all over again."
Just how far was that slip?
"Especially with the shoulder, I couldn't do anything after surgery," Davis said. "I gained about 10 pounds, got heavy and had to run a lot. As soon as you're cleared, you have to run twice as much every day. Yuji [Katsuta, the team's trainer] killed me on the bike. That goes back with [former Golden Eagle point guard who also battled injuries] Khari Price going through that. Everything seems so much harder, the simplest tasks, like squeezing a ball.
"I used to make fun of Yuji for having one-pound weights, then I got hurt and they felt like 50 pounds. It's just a little setback you have to overcome."
The last two years have been much better for Davis. Despite 13 appearances in his first two seasons, he came into his own in the 2016-17 season with 11 starts in 30 games, averaging 6.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He set career-highs of 17 points in C-USA wins over Marshall and North Texas, as well as against eventual NCAA Round-of-32 foe Florida State.
This season, Davis has been equally instrumental in Southern Miss already posting its most wins since the 2011-12 season. He has again started 11 games, and curiously enough, the 6-foot-7 forward has attempted a three-pointer only once every 24 minutes, compared to nine from the previous season. Most importantly, his overall field goal percentage (63.2) is up 24 points from last year.
"If the shot's open, I will take the three," Davis said. "I've brought into my role into establishing my spot in the post since we haven't really had that in a few years. I'm still trying to progress and score in the post. I know I can always shoot a three, but I want to work on my post game this year and the year after that."
Sadler also shared his expertise on the change, where the team's 45.4 field-goal percentage is also the highest of any of his four Southern Miss teams.
"More than anything, we aren't in the same offense we once ran," he said. "We used to have a lot of two-post systems, last year with what we were doing. This year, it's more just one guy. Last year he got more three-pointers on the screen roll and replace. Most of the time this year, he's the ball screener and they will roll 99 percent of the time, so there just aren't the opportunities he's had in the past."
Davis and fellow redshirt-junior guard Kevin Holland are the only four-year members of the program. Sadler says that Davis' veteran nature has allowed for his emergence the last two seasons.
"I think more than anything, after his junior year, he has been around the program for three years and he's familiar with everything that we are doing," Sadler said. "Obviously, nobody really learns till you're out there playing. He missed a lot of playing time as far as physically, but obviously mentally being around he's picked up on it and what we are trying to do."
Holland took a redshirt year as a sophomore in that 2015-16 season in which Davis was sidelined after nine games due to the foot injury. Holland praised Davis' determination to stay mentally strong through the physical pain.
"From being injured back-to-back years, there's a lot of frustration that comes with it when you can't be out there," Holland said. "He started both years pretty solid, so I know he was really frustrated at the time. He really stuck through it going to rehab every day, putting in work to get better. His mentality of staying focused on getting better was something I saw a lot in him."
Davis, who is majoring in exercise science, and the Golden Eagles begin a four-game homestand Thursday against Old Dominion at 7 p.m. CT.