Josh Davis has developed into the type of impact player Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins thought he would when he recruited him out of Detroit Henry Ford a few years ago.
Davis, who earned the title of Mr. PSL in 2015 when he helped Henry Ford to its first state championship game appearance, is now a starter for the MAC preseason favorite Broncos (10-6, 2-1), emerging as a go-to player during his junior year.
Davis, a versatile 6-foot-6, 205-pounder, is averaging 10.4 points and 7.6 rebounds, scoring a career-high 27 in a win over Chicago State Dec. 30, then not missing a shot with a 10-for-10 effort while scoring 26 the next game in a victory over perennial Mid-American Conference power Akron before a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) in a win over Miami last Saturday.
Davis averaged just 2.8 points in 10.8 minutes a game as a freshman, then just 2 points in 9.8 minutes as a sophomore when he shot just 29 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3-point range.
But, Davis got serious about his game during the summer, working on his game while putting on 20 pounds in the weight room — and by eating — knowing he had the chance for more playing time with the graduation loss of small forward Tucker Haymond, who helped the Broncos earn a MAC championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance back in 2014.
“I just put in a lot of hard work through the summer and my teammates and coaches gave me the confidence to come out and do what I can this season and I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to show what I can do on the floor,” Davis said. “It definitely helps to get more playing time too, able to get the feel for the game, the quickness of how I need to play and toughness, too.
“My confidence has been my biggest improvement, knowing I can do things without being so hesitant, knowing my teammates know I can do things, that’s really what I’ve been focusing on all summer, my confidence.”
No doubt, Davis’ hard work has paid off, displayed during the recent three-game stretch when he averaged 21 points and 8.7 rebounds, making 23-of-31 shots from the field and 8-of-13 3s to earn MAC West Player of the Week honors the last two weeks.
“It was real fun,” said Davis of the stretch. “I had been struggling before then so I had been in the gym working with my coach on tweaking my shot because my shot felt real weird. In that (10-for-10) game my teammates were looking for me and I was crashing and able to get easy buckets too.
“I feel my strength is my athleticism and my ability to guard multiple positions. I’m able to rebound like I have, get my shot off over tall defenders. I know I have to rebound, try to get rebounds offensively to get extra possessions and when I’m playing the four I’m going up against big bodies and I have to limit teams to one possession.”
Hawkins is thrilled Davis has been able to come in and fill the void left by Haymond, who averaged 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in 31.3 minutes, shooting 45.6 percent while helping the Broncos to a 16-16 record (11-7 MAC) last season.
Davis is WMU’s second leading scorer, behind only All-MAC senior guard Thomas Wilder (18.3 points), and just ahead of junior guard Bryce Moore (10.3). Davis is averaging 26 minutes and is shooting 48 percent from the field while connecting on 39.2 percent of his 3-point attempts (20-of-51), including all three of his long-range shots in the 87-75 win over Akron.
Davis said he played at 160 pounds in high school, but has put on 45 pounds since arriving in Kalamazoo. He benches 285 pounds after benching just “135 in high school.”
Let’s face it, Hawkins knows he has to have Davis on the floor for the Broncos to be successful, especially with his ability to play shooting guard, small forward or power forward. He was in constant foul trouble Tuesday night at Toledo, sitting with two quick fouls early in the game, playing just 18 minutes and fouling out with a sub-par (four points, two rebounds) night in an 84-61 loss to end WMU’s four-game winning streak.
“He had a great summer and that has carried into this season,” said Hawkins, who is in his 15th year as Broncos coach. “His freshman year was OK, then we thought he’d take a big jump last year and obviously I know he was really disappointed with it and his confidence waned. Sometimes when big brother leaves, little brother steps up to take over the household. He was playing behind Tucker Haymond, our only senior, and then when Tucker left, he was getting 32 minutes a game, and when he did come in, he just looked out of sync and it was a frustrating year for him.
“When Tucker graduated I think Josh saw all those minutes in front of him and available and he really dedicated himself to working hard. He got off to a really good start, then went through a little slump, and I brought him in and watched some film with him on what felt like was wrong with his shot, when he was going through the slump, and he made the adjustment.
“Even when he slumped he had an impact on the game because he was rebounding well and all of those things. He was an effective player then and has really developed into the player we thought he was going to be and what he hoped to be.”
Davis feels the Broncos have a solid chance of winning the MAC title and knows he will have to be a consistent double-double threat to get it done, especially with the injury (stress fracture) to 7-footer Seth Dugan.
Davis will have to continue to crash the boards and Hawkins will need to get more production from 6-8 sophomore power forward Brandon Johnson for the Broncos to play in the Big Dance come March.
Josh Davis elevates game for Broncos
Year: Games-started, Min., FG-ATT, PCT., 3FG-ATT, PCT, PPG, RPG
Freshman: 25-0, 10.8, 20-of-75, .267, 13-of-54, .241, 2.8, 1.4
Sophomore: 28-2, 9.8, 20-of-69, .290, 6-of-36, .167, 2.0, 1.1
Junior: 16-13, 26.0, 60-of-125, .480, 20-of-51, .392, 10.4, 7.6