College Sports

Similarities between 49ers coach Mark Price, point guard shape their special bond

Junior Jon Davis (left) is entering his third season as the starting point guard for the Charlotte 49ers and Mark Price (right), the team’s third-year coach and former NBA All-Star.
Junior Jon Davis (left) is entering his third season as the starting point guard for the Charlotte 49ers and Mark Price (right), the team’s third-year coach and former NBA All-Star.

Charlotte point guard Jon Davis isn’t shy about comparing himself favorably in certain ways to 49ers coach Mark Price, who became one of the top shooters in NBA history during his 12 years as a pro.

“I know for a fact that I’m more athletic and stronger than him,” says Davis, a 6-foot-3 junior. “But he was faster than I am.”

Davis pauses, then says with a smile: “And, yeah, he does shoot better. I will give him that.”

Aside from the shooting difference – Price remains second on the NBA’s career free-throw percentage list behind Steve Nash and ahead of Stephen Curry -- there other similarities which go deeper between Davis and Price, all to the benefit of the 49ers, who open their third season under Price against Methodist on Friday at Halton Arena.

Both came out of high school lightly recruited. Armed with chip-on-shoulder mentalities, they made immediate impacts on their college programs. Price ultimately became one of Georgia Tech’s greatest players, a trajectory Davis appears to be following at Charlotte, where he is nearing the 1,000-point mark in his career (he’s at 974) with two full seasons to go.

Jon Davis was the first player signed by Mark Price after he was hired by the 49ers.

Price went on to be an NBA All-Star. And while that might seem an improbable outcome for Davis, that’s the goal.

“I try to teach him and help him get better every day,” Price says. “Maybe I can see a few things that others who didn’t play the position every day can’t see. It’s something that I can maybe help with him getting to the next level.”

Charlotte junior Jon Davis (right) enters his third season as the 49ers’ starting point guard. He averaged 19.6 points last season to rank second in Conference USA in scoring. Benjamin Robson

Says Davis: “He played in the NBA with guys like (Michael) Jordan. That’s something for me to aspire to.”

Davis and Price have been there for each other from the start.

When Price was hired to replace Alan Major in March 2015, the recruiting season had all but wound down. The 49ers had two of Conference USA’s top guards in Keyshawn Woods and Torin Dorn, but they announced they would transfer (Woods to Wake Forest; Dorn to N.C. State) after Major’s departure.

That left Price with few options in his backcourt. But he heard about Davis, who had just completed a strong senior season at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. Davis had earlier committed to DePaul, but withdrew when he heard rumors that then-coach Oliver Purnell might be fired. By that time, the recruiting window for the Class of 2015 had nearly shut, with other interested schools having already signed their quota of players.

Price understood what Davis was going through. Growing up in Enid, Okla., Price dreamed of playing in the ACC, specifically for North Carolina and coach Dean Smith. When that offer didn’t come, he signed with Georgia Tech, which had little basketball tradition at the time and a new, young coach in Bobby Cremins.

Coach Price took a chance on me when nobody else did.

Jon Davis

So Price knew that just because Davis hadn’t been snapped up by a larger, more prestigious program, it didn’t mean he couldn’t be a productive Division I player. Davis became the first player Price signed.

“He was a guy who was a little underrated, so I could relate to him,” Price says. “We both knew he had been overlooked, so I told him to just try and use that. I always did play with a little chip on my shoulder. So I told him to play as hard as he could all the time. Don’t let somebody leave the gym and later say, ‘I missed on that guy.’ ”

Davis quickly emerged as one of Conference USA’s top young players, earning a spot on the league’s all-freshman team in 2015-16 and the all-conference second team last season. His 35-point performance against Old Dominion is tied for the second highest output in Halton Arena in 49ers history.

“Coach Price took a chance on me when nobody else did,” Davis says. “And he’s always talking to us about the chip he played with -- in college and the NBA. He was undersized against guys who were faster, stronger and more athletic. He shows us how that work ethic helped get him to where he was as a player and to where he is now.”

Price sometimes peppers 49ers practices with reminders of his shooting prowess.

14 Double-figure scoring games for Davis last season.

“He teases us sometimes, especially about free throws,” Davis says. “I mean, I think he missed 15 in one season!”

Davis recalls Price as being happy after one 49ers victory in which his team made 22 of 26 free throws.

“He was excited for us,” says Davis, a career 76.4 percent free-throw shooter (Price was 90.4 percent in the pros). “But he still said we missed too many.”

As a two-year starter, but still only a junior, Davis has become one of the 49ers’ leaders, a role that automatically comes with playing point guard. There’s plenty of experience elsewhere on the roster now, however, including junior guard Andrien White, senior guard Hudson Price, sophomore forward Najee Garvin and senior guard Austin Ajukwa.

“The first two years, it was kind of the blind leading the blind on the court,” says Davis, who sharpened his game last summer at the Nike Basketball Camp in Los Angeles and the Chris Paul Elite Guard Camp in Winston-Salem. “We didn’t really have anybody to follow except coach.

“This year, we have guys who can pass off that knowledge. (Transfer center) Jailan Haslem or (freshman guard) Jaylan McGill can ask Najee, or he can ask Hudson, or me or Andrien. We can pass the knowledge. We didn’t have that luxury the first two years.”

Hudson Price has a unique perspective on the relationship between Mark Price and Davis. He’s the son of the coach and the teammate of the point guard.

“When you’re the best player on the team and the leader, there’s an extra level of opportunity there for you,” Hudson says. “So there are times when dad has to lay into Jon a little bit.

“But that’s because he needs him to be great.”

David Scott: @davidscott14