College Sports

How Jon Davis became ‘that guy’ for Mark Price, Charlotte 49ers

Charlotte 49ers point guard Jon Davis (3) found an option in coach Mark Price, and the 49ers found a leader in Davis.
Charlotte 49ers point guard Jon Davis (3) found an option in coach Mark Price, and the 49ers found a leader in Davis. AP

Mark Price found himself scrambling.

A couple of weeks removed from being named Charlotte’s men’s basketball coach in the spring of 2015, Price and his coaching staff still sought their first signee when they traveled to Hargrave Military Academy, a prep school in Chatham, Va.

Their visit centered around Jon Davis, a 6-foot-3 point guard they viewed as one of the top unsigned guards in the country. And during a workout nearly two hours long, Davis didn’t disappoint.

Price offered Davis a scholarship on the spot. Two weeks later, on his visit to Charlotte’s campus, Davis committed to the 49ers.

His combination of size and speed matched the mold of Price’s ideal point guard, one who could direct the up-tempo offense Price planned on implementing in his attempt to revive a program that had fallen into obscurity.

Yet, it was the resolve Davis, now a 49ers sophomore, showed during that workout – and through his first two seasons in Charlotte – that Price found endearing.

“We knew the situation we were coming into and that we might take our lumps early in the transition,” Price said. “(You want) to have a guy who’s going to be running the show for you to be able to (not only) take those bumps in the road but keep working and have a toughness to fight through that.”

But first, that toughness needed to be developed.

Toughness instilled

Davis grew up in Fort Washington, Md., about 20 miles from the District of Columbia and near where the 49ers will play Maryland on Tuesday night. The area is one of basketball’s recruiting hotbeds.

He joined the prestigious D.C. Assault AAU program, only increasing the level of competition he was exposed to. Among his teammates were Maryland’s Melo Trimble, North Carolina’s Nate Britt and Villanova’s Kris Jenkins.

They pushed each other. And Davis reaped the benefits.

“If I’m going at them every day and I know I can compete with them,” Davis said, “Then I can basically compete with anybody.”

College coaches noted this, as well. Many schools came calling, including Oklahoma State and Rutgers. But DePaul offered significant playing time.

A close relationship with Blue Demons assistant coach Renard Phillips also influenced Davis’ commitment. So when rumors about the potential dismissals of Phillips and head coach Oliver Purnell started swirling, Davis asked to be released from his letter of intent in March 2014.

With his recruiting window almost closed, Davis’ options were limited. He opted to enroll at Hargrave and postpone his recruitment.

Davis spent about five months at Hargrave. He woke up at six o’clock each morning, kept his uniform “on point” and maintained a short haircut, among other regimental tasks.

“Jon has always been a good kid, and he’s always been disciplined,” said Davis’ father, Jonathan. “But going to a military school, that helped him out a lot. I think that created even more toughness.”

It was while playing for Hargrave’s postgraduate team that Davis started embracing the point guard position. He said he became better at reading defenses, which showed as he averaged 14 points and seven assists.

But Davis still needed to be tested.

‘Thrown in the fire’

As freshman a season ago Davis wCharlotte’s starting point guard. But a difficult opening schedule, which included Michigan and Syracuse, presented an early challenge.

The 49ers started the year with a 2-9 record. During that span, Davis averaged 7.5 points, shooting 35.2 percent.

“Jon got thrown in the fire against some really good competition early and some really good players,” Price said. “I think the thing I liked about him was his resilience. A bad game or us getting beat didn’t discourage him.”

Davis adhered to Price’s advice. And the results progressively showed.

After averaging 4.67 assists per game, the sixth-most among Conference USA players, Davis made the Conference USA All-Freshman team. His 154 assists made him the 10th player since 1973-74 to record 150 in a season for Charlotte.

Yet, the 49ers’ 14-19 record is what weighed on his mind entering the offseason, he said.

“I would’ve felt a lot better about winning the conference tournament than I did about getting All-Freshman team,” Davis said. “I’m blessed and am happy about it. But at the end of the day, I can’t sit and rest on being All-Freshman team.”

And so far, he hasn’t.

‘That guy for us’

With 12 minutes left in its season opener, Charlotte trailed Division II’s Newberry College by 14 points. The 49ers’ offense scuffling, a loss seemed imminent.

Then, Davis seized control. The sophomore had 24 points in the final 10 minutes, 18 seconds, leading Charlotte to a 101-88 victory.

Davis’ 28-point effort against Newberry marked the first of his five 20-point performances through the first 10 games of the season. His second halves have been particularly prolific, as he’s averaged 13.5 points on 58 percent shooting.

“I think every team – and every good team – has guys like that,” Price said, “I think Jon is that guy for us right now.”

Davis will look to demonstrate that development in front of a national audience on Tuesday at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena, where he and the 49ers will face Maryland at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Jonathan Davis and approximately 50 other of Davis’ family members and friends will also be in attendance as he competes against Trimble, his former AAU teammate and one of college basketball’s best guards.

Davis’ toughness will likely be tested. But as he’s always shown, such a trial will only continue to shape him.