Tom Izzo Talks Of Rising Expectations For Star Freshman Big Man Deyonta Davis

Tom Izzo & Deyonta Davis 2015.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard
Tom Izzo & Deyonta Davis 2015. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard

Breslin Center

East Lansing, MI

Deyonta Davis the Spartan basketball star freshman big man was one of the nation’s elite recruits last year. As his freshman campaign continues he has played in all 17 Spartan games averaging just over eight points and five rebounds while accumulating a team leading 36 blocks all on 17 minutes of average playing time. He is the real deal.

With all of that success comes even more attention and it started this week. Davis was named in the latest ESPN NBA Mock Draft as a first round draftpick. In fact the ESPN product listed him higher in the first round than star Denzel Valentine. Now before you go running off complaining the soft spoken, but talented Spartan is one of the most humble and kind stars you will meet.

That doesn’t mean that things like this can’t be a distraction. Even good kids like Davis can’t ignore the media entirely. Whether it is family or friends who read, watch or listen or even agents who inevitably will contact players or their families players learn their standing.

In fact former MSU head coach Nick Saban said at the start of this past football season’s SEC media days that he thinks it was those distractions that hurt his team against OSU in the very first college football playoff.

Saban said back in July that, “We're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he's a first round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first round draft pick finds out he's not a first round draft pick."

So as Izzo’s star continues to grow I asked the Spartan future Hall of Fame head coach about handling those distractions with the humble Davis.

“I talked to Nick (Saban) about it this summer, and asked him, ‘What do you think happened last year? You hit the nail on the head, that was the first thing he brought up. We’ve all got to deal with that. We’ve got to deal with that because of these damn phones we all hold. Including me, including me. But that’s why...I haven’t had as many commercials this year, but I don’t feel any different. Those things are evil. They cause problems, they give false hope. Like I told my team, don’t feel comfortable where we are, we’ve beaten three teams. We beat two handily, but as I look in the standings, those three teams are in the bottom five. Glass half full, glass half empty, I don’t know, but I laughed after the press conference.”

Izzo went on to say about Davis that, “Let me tell you something, I think Deyonta Davis is going to be the best big man to play here in a lotta, lotta, lotta, lotta lotta years. I also think he’s got a lot of growth right now. Like I said, he has no ego. He has to gain some. He’s got to get one. But if he grows into it, it’s going to be good. He’s got a great high school coach that’s been on top of a lot of things, and the drafts I saw had Denzel still ahead of him, but I get your point. He’s moved up, like all big men do. All big men are higher. My goal would be, with Deyonta Davis, if it’s next week, next month or next year or a year from now, is ready physically, mentally, that’s when he should go to the next level. But remember, there’s more than one dimension. You can’t be just 6-10. Right now he’s got to work on staying out of foul trouble. In three of the four games he’s playing limited minutes because of foul trouble, not because of the minutes he could play.”

Izzo credits Davis with whatever decision he makes, having a great support system like his family and awesome high school as part of his inner circle. “I think there’s enough good people around him to keep his head on, and hey, I hope at the end of the year, he’s a lottery pick. I hope he’s a top five pick, and if he’s mentally ready to go, he goes. That means we had a hell of a year, he had a hell of a year. I’m so far beyond that now, as far as that part goes, but I’m also leery of what people around say, do, so we’ll combat that. You couldn’t have said it better, though. Here’s a program like Alabama, and that was the first thing out of his mouth to me, not the first thing you heard in watching and listening to what he said about this year’s team compared to last year’s team. That’s our job. Our job is to keep him focused, and that’s why sometimes our job is to get mad at fans and media for saying things that they really have no idea. Even a mock draft. What’s a mock draft? I’ve seen guys picked high that never go, I’ve seen guys...I just watched a walk-on last night catch more passes than Carter got liver pills. So it’s not an exact science. I’m just excited that he’s good enough that he’s getting that recognition. I’ve got a couple of guys that are being talked about for the NBA already? That’s good for me.”

While Izzo has taken criticism for not playing Davis more, he said that sometimes it is players who cost themselves minutes and he is right. Some thought with Denzel Valentine out that perhaps even though Davis plays another position it may have garnered him more minutes.

Izzo said, “I think he’s responded fine, except that he’s what I call – there were times we didn’t play him as many minutes because there’s things he’s gotta be able to do. There were times that I would say he self-checked himself. When you’re in foul trouble, you put yourself on the bench, the coach doesn’t put you on the bench. And as I’ve said, he’s been in foul trouble three out of four games. It’s just learning how to adjust to that, and he’s doing a better job.”

Izzo can’t hide his admiration for Davis adding, “Hey, I love coaching this kid. If I looked at when he came in in July to where he is now – some of you have interviewed him – it’s not just the hair that’s changed. I mean, this kid has really developed. He’s even becoming more talkative on the court. I think his grandmother even said he was more talkative when he went home for Christmas. He’s making big strides, you know? Make sure you understand, we’re not trying to hold him back. But his progress has been made because it’s taken steps like it’s supposed to be. I don’t wanna miss out on something on that, either, because he’s gonna have a hell of a future in front of him. I want to make sure he’s ready to do what he’s gotta do when he gets to that point. And that point will be Thursday night, because he’s gotta help us win more games here.”

Davis will help his Spartans win a lot of games and whenever that times comes to an end he will win many more in the NBA. For now, Spartan Nation needs to trust Izzo on the playing time and enjoy the young star as long as they have him.