Day 5: Indiana | Traveling Violations
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It's called the cave or the dungeon or sometimes just "downstairs." It has no windows, no desk, no fancy decorations. It is the small, simple Indiana coaches' locker room. But for Mike Davis it is home.
There in the basement of Assembly Hall Davis sets up shop every day, seated on a well-worn couch, surrounded by stacks and stacks of VHS tapes, a phone and a big-screen TV. And not much else.
The IU coach has a perfectly fine workspace (complete with desk, windows and a secretary) upstairs in the IU basketball office, but he doesn't go up there more than once a week.
"Coach Davis is a workaholic," senior A.J. Moye said. "If he is not recruiting he is in there watching film. He's got at least 40 or 50 tapes of every team in the NBA. And the same amount for 70 or 80 college teams. He lives, breathes, sleeps and eats basketball."
This is probably not the image you have of Davis, the fourth-year IU coach who is famous for taking over for Bob Knight, almost winning the NCAA title in his first season as the full-time coach and for running out on the court against Kentucky last December (among other high-profile meltdowns).
"I think there is probably a perception of him more as a recruiter than a X and O guy," associate coach John Treloar said. "But I don't think we would have gotten to the level we [were at] the last few seasons if that were the case.
"I [doubt] people would look at our teams and say they are one of the top 10 most talented teams in the country. He works at it."
You can't argue with that. Or his no-frills approach to it. Most college coaches proudly preen around in the latest and greatest booster-paid facilities – plush locker rooms, trendy player lounges and oversized offices with breathtaking views more suitable for a CEO than a coach.
Not Davis. IU's facilities haven't changed in years. He'd rather watch tapes in a truly Spartan space.
"I like it in here," Davis shrugs.
Davis is a film fiend because he isn't too proud to steal stuff from everyone he sees. His staff tapes nearly every game on television and then cuts and copies it into specific categories with titles straight out of the hoops junkie rack at Blockbuster.
"Spurs Offensive Sets."
"4 on 0; help; close outs."
"Lakers Playoff Sets, 2002."
And so on.
Davis may not have the reputation as a basketball purist, someone who will go bleary eyed watching 12 hours of a tape a day, but this is the reality. During one rough stretch last season he didn't go home for two nights, hunkered down in that locker room trying to find a solution.
"I think he is one of the best coaches in the nation now," Moye said. "When he wins his first national title, it will be cemented. I see him winning multiple national championships."
Davis laughs off that kind of talk, sort of. He doesn't disagree with Moye about the potential of the IU program.
"My vision is something big, real big," Davis said. "My vision of what I want the program to be is off the charts. I want to be top 5 every year. I want to win national titles."
He's taken major steps in that direction this year. Over the summer Davis secured five verbal commitments from touted high school players, forming a group some recruiting sleuths call the nation's best class. It should give him the kind of talent he needs to make another Final Four run.
In the meantime he's working with this team, which has been largely overlooked by prognosticators and which has obvious questions in the frontcourt. There is work to be done.
But with recruiting out of the way, Davis had the luxury of spending the fall in Bloomington working with his young team. He was present for every single individual skill development session, a rarity for a head coach.
"It was so important I was here to set the tone and set the intensity we need to win some games," Davis said. "I feel good about where we are."
IU, Davis believes, is on the road back to the nation's elite. Davis is fully in charge, loading up his program with his players to run his system.
If IU returns to the promise land under Davis, his reputation may change. But not his love for his locker room office.