Davis' cross-country run finally may hit Final Four For Arizona's center, college career has meant four schools in five years

Ncaa Tournament

March 22, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

DENVER -- For a player who prides himself on rebounding, Ben Davis never has had a great sense of timing. Take the many moves he has made during his five-year college career.

After starting out at Kansas for the 1991-92 season, Davis left Lawrence two weeks into his sophomore year. The Jayhawks went to the Final Four that season.

Davis went to Florida, but never played for the Gators after reportedly failing a drug test. Months after Davis left Gainesville, Florida also went to the Final Four.

After a year at Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College, where he led the team to the national championship, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound center wound up at Arizona.

"I had to take a rough road, but things ended up working out for the best," Davis said yesterday.

Talk about things going full circle: When Davis takes the court for third-seeded Arizona in tonight's NCAA West Regional semifinal at McNichols Arena, he will be playing against his first college team, second-seeded Kansas.

There won't be many reunions, because all of the players Davis started out with as a Jayhawk are gone. But Kansas coach Roy Williams, who recruited Davis out of Oak Hill (Va.) Academy and still stays in touch with his former player, is here.

"It's just another game," said Davis. "It's the Sweet 16. That's all the motivation I need. It's been four years since I left, and I've played a lot of games since. We've won a lot, and they've won a lot."

Said Williams: "It's strange, because we still do keep up with each other. Every time I get an Arizona box score, I look to see what Ben did before I look to see whether the team won or lost."

Williams didn't have to find a box score to see what Davis did Sunday in Arizona's 87-73, second-round victory over Iowa. The Jayhawks were also in Tempe, Ariz., and Williams saw every one of Davis' 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.

That helped to make up for last season. After missing the first two months because of a flap over insufficient transfer credits, Davis was declared ineligible before the team's final regular-season game for accepting improper benefits from a booster.

"It hurt me to watch us lose [to Miami, Ohio] in the opening round of the tournament," said Davis, who had his eligibility restored this summer after making restitution. "I always thought I'd have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. It just took longer than I thought."

In retrospect, Davis said, he never should have left Kansas. Though he has found happiness and success in the desert, Davis said, it was immaturity and selfishness in dealing with playing time that caused him to start his journey.

Davis called Williams a few weeks after announcing his decision to leave and asked for a second chance. But the Kansas coach had filled the scholarship spot. Williams since has sent Davis cards every year for Christmas, and Davis visited some friends in Lawrence last summer for four days.

"I had a lot of good times there," Davis said.

Said Williams: "It was just an unfortunate thing that didn't work out."

Davis finally has turned into the player most believed he would be coming out of high school. He wound up leading the well-balanced Wildcats in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (9.7) while being named all-Pacific-10. Since center Joseph Blair was declared ineligible in mid-January, Davis has been a force. He has been in double figures in rebounding in 12 of the past 16 games.

The improved play might have to do with his mother's moving in with him in Tucson. Or it might have to do with Davis' finally shedding the last of the 35 pounds he gained in Lawrence. Or perhaps it simply is a matter of growing up.

"I think he's learned a lot from all of his experiences," said Arizona point guard Reggie Geary.

According to Williams and Arizona coach Lute Olson, perception is far different from reality when it comes to judging Davis. In fact, Olson called Williams, as well as Oak Hill coach Steve Smith, former Florida coach Lon Kruger and "the guy who does the radio at Hutchinson" about Davis.

"There's never been anyone in our program who's worked harder or represented our program better or been a better team player," said Olson. "We had our team banquet this week, and he was named MVP by our players. That's rare for someone who's only been in the program a little more than a year."

What Williams saw in Tempe and what he has seen in watching tape this week is sort of what he envisioned when he recruited Davis five years ago. He has rooted for his former player, and will again after tonight. As for tonight, he is merely hoping.

"I hope he doesn't get 20 rebounds against us," said Williams.

If he does, Davis will be one game away from reaching the Final Four. Maybe his timing wasn't so bad after all.

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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