Thursday, March 15, 2001

IU's Davis campaigns to keep job

AP Sports Writer

        SAN DIEGO — Indiana coach Mike Davis recited a brief version of his resume: 21 victories, the Big Ten record for best defensive field-goal percentage, and a runner-up finish in the conference tournament.

        Those are things Bob Knight never achieved in his first season in Bloomington. Yet Davis still is waiting to learn whether he gets the job permanently.

        “I feel like no matter what happens, I deserve the job,” said Davis, an assistant who was hired as interim coach when Knight was fired six months ago. “You never know in this world, but I feel like I'll be back.”

        The Hoosiers (21-12), whose No. 4 seed is their highest since 1993, agree. They hope to further make a case for Davis with a victory over 13th-seeded Kent State (23-9) in Thursday's first round of the NCAA tournament.

        “What else does a man have to do? He's basically proved everyone wrong,” said center Kirk Haston, who leads the team with 18.7 points a game.

        “He should be signed to a long-term contract,” Haston said. “If he's not, somebody is going to pick him up and it's going to be a mistake that the university is going to make.”

        Indiana officials have said Davis' status would be decided after the season ends. In four of the last six years, the end came with first-round losses in the tournament, including a 20-point blowout to Pepperdine in Knight's final game last year.

        “It's a pretty humbling feeling to be just sitting there with nothing to do but wait 'til next year,” Haston said. “We have something to prove.”

        Davis, an assistant under Knight for three seasons, made wholesale changes when he took over. He dumped Knight's motion offense, saying he never understood it, in favor of getting the ball inside to Haston and Jared Jeffries, the Big Ten's freshman of the year.

        “I didn't want to have an equal opportunity offense,” he said. “I wanted the ball in the hands of the guys who could do something with it and play off them.”

        Davis also changed defensive strategies, which paid off when Indiana set the Big Ten record by holding opponents to 38.2 percent shooting. Teams are averaging 63.9 points against the Hoosiers, the lowest point total since 1983-84.

        “It's a testament to how good a job coach Davis has done. There was about 15 people who believed we could do this,” Haston said.

        Those believers existed mainly inside Indiana's locker room. Students and diehard fans protested Knight's firing after 29 years that included three national championships and repeated controversy.

        “A lot of people felt I wasn't tough enough to handle this job,” said Davis, whose low-key demeanor is the opposite of Knight's temperament.

        “You don't have to go around hitting people or doing things to show that you're tough. You don't have to speak loud or whatever people think toughness is,” he said. “Toughness to me is just refusing to lose and playing relentless. That's what I want our guys to do.”

        In September, players shocked and angered over Knight's ouster threatened to quit if Davis wasn't selected as interim coach. Even then, some of them said the season would be dedicated to Knight.

        Davis' success has changed all that.

        “We wanted to keep the team together because it's a team that (Knight) brought together, but the season is definitely coach Davis',” Haston said. “He's the one that's done the work and kept us going in the right direction this year. Right now this is coach Davis' team by far.”

        Kent State coach Gary Waters is backing his friend Davis.

        “I think it's a travesty that he hasn't been named the coach yet,” Waters said Wednesday. “If you wait 'til the last minute, that's how you end up losing some key recruits.”

        Davis is passionate about his players, a smiling bunch who appear to be having more fun than they ever did under Knight.

        “Last year we didn't have the same fire in our eyes as we do this year,” guard Tom Coverdale said. “Everybody is playing as hard as they can and that's made a real difference.”

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