In Year 3, Mike Davis ready for Detroit Mercy to take next step — with no restrictions

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — This is Mike Davis' fourth stop as a head college basketball coach — and the first where his team didn't make the postseason within at least the first two years. Then again, Davis' Detroit Mercy team wasn't eligible for the postseason in Year 2, because of academic issues that predated this regime.

Year 3 starts Wednesday, and by all accounts, it's time to take that next step.

Mike Davis enters his third season as Detroit Mercy's men's basketball coach.

"We have bigger expectations. We have a really good team," said Detroit Mercy's star, Antoine Davis, who's been top-six or better in scoring, nationally, in his first two seasons with the Titans.

"I feel like we've got some really good guys that came in that I feel can make an impact early."

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Detroit Mercy was to open the season at a multi-team event (MTE) at Kentucky, and was to play Atlantic 10 favorite Richmond in the opener Wednesday, Kentucky on Friday and Morehead State on Sunday. But all three of those games were scrapped Monday night because of a positive COVID-19 test with a staff member in the Detroit Mercy program. Its opener now could be Dec. 4 at Michigan State, the program's first meeting between the schools since 2001.

Detroit Mercy won just 19 games, total, in Mike Davis' first two seasons, but now he's got his players in place.

Last year was a setback for recruiting, he said, because of the NCAA ban. He said they lost out on several targets, including some who ended up at Power Five schools.

"It was really hard to recruit kids into a program where you can't participate in the tournament," Davis said. "Some kids, they want to be able to go. Even if they don't go, they want to be able to go.

"That really set us back. Nothing you can say about it; you have to play with what you have."

What Detroit Mercy has this year is much more experience.

In are transfers Bul Kuol (guard, 6-7, 205, Cal Baptist), Matt Johnson (guard, 6-4, 180, St. Bonaventure), Taurean Thompson (forward, 6-11, 245, Seton Hall), Marquell Fraser (guard, 6-5, 200, Idaho) and Noah Waterman (guard/forward, 6-11, 210, Niagara).

Johnson recently was declared immediately eligible by the NCAA; Waterman continues to await word, though the Titans are optimistic he'll be able to play soon.

Of the returning players beside Davis, Mike Davis expects big things from guard Dwayne Rose Jr., nephew of Pistons guard Derrick Rose who has made progress.

"The improvements have been in shooting," Antoine Davis said. "I think the five who are gonna start, all of us can shoot for the most part. We have some more athleticism on our wings and our guards have gotten better. We're gonna have a really good team."

Detroit Mercy has had just one winning season in the last seven years, and none in the last four.

The Titans, who are picked ninth in the 12-team Horizon League, haven't made the postseason since making the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and then the NIT in 2013.

At Indiana, Davis made the postseason five of his six seasons; at UAB, it was four out of six; and at Texas Southern, it again was five out of six.

He made the NCAA Tournament in nine of 18 years before arriving at Detroit Mercy, which has made the NCAA Tournament six times in its history.

But, this year, at least there's a chance — which in itself could be a big boost in psyche for the Titans.

"That's a big blow. What happens when you know you're not going to the tournament, sometimes you just say I'm waiting for the season to be over, we don't have anything to play for anyway," Mike Davis said. "A couple kids at the end of the year last year, they basically stopped playing."

Said Antoine Davis, who's in line to be Detroit Mercy's third player to be selected in the NBA Draft since the 1980s: "It's a way better feeling knowing we can actually go and play, and now we can have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. Just knowing that there isn't any restriction, that's always a good feeling."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984