PROVO — BYU coach Dave Rose describes senior forward Brandon Davies' career as "really unique."
Davies is considered one of the best post players in school history. He has been named to the Wooden Award preseason watch list, and he could end up among the top 10 all-time scoring leaders at BYU (right now, he's No. 41 on that list and ascending rapidly, with 1,068 career points).
Last year, he posted the program's first 20-point/20-rebound game since 1975. He has a penchant for taking charges (31 last year) and he's known for bringing Marriott Center crowds to their feet with his rim-rattling slam dunks.
But as impressive as the 6-foot-9, 235-pounder from Provo is on the court, what impresses Rose — and others around him — even more is the way he dealt with a unique experience more than 18 months ago.
In the early days of March 2011, the Cougars were ranked No. 3 in the national polls and projected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when the shocking news broke that Davies had been suspended for violating the school's honor code. The suspension — particularly the timing of it and the circumstances surrounding it — made headlines around the world. For a while, it even overshadowed the "Jimmermania" phenomenon that was taking college basketball by storm at that time.
While Davies became the subject of jokes in some circles, many observers praised BYU for its handling of the situation, for putting principles above winning.
And everyone wondered about Davies' future. Over the years, plenty of Cougar athletes have violated the honor code, but none faced the intense scrutiny and publicity that Davies did.
"With having a top-5 team and all the hype around that group and the situation that happened, it put Brandon in a special spot as far as the limelight is concerned," Rose said. "He had so many different options of how he could have handled it."
Davies could have transferred, declared for the NBA draft, or left to play professionally overseas. He could have allowed himself to be consumed by anger and bitterness. Instead, that summer, Davies voluntarily withdrew from school so he could begin the progress of returning to BYU, and then he worked with the school's dean of students in order to make that happen. When he was re-admitted in the fall of 2011, Davies said simply, "I'm excited to be back at BYU and look forward to the future. I'm grateful for this opportunity."
Rose is eager to watch Davies continue his development this season.
"For me, as his coach, and if you talk to the people on campus that worked through that situation, the progress that he's made and the fact that he's still here at BYU, trying to finish his career, they'd all tell you that we're really proud of him," Rose said.
"It's his senior year. He's earned a leadership role on this team. Hopefully he can continue to progress because one thing about life is, you don't make a couple of really good decisions, then life's over and you don't have any more decisions to make. Life goes on every day. I hope he can continue to do the right things and progress. The way that he's playing right now is an example to all of us."
Going into Davies' second game of his senior season tonight (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) when the Cougars host Georgia State, his career so far "has been a learning experience," Davies said. "I've definitely grown from it, both on the court and off the court."
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is happy with the way Davies has bounced back from that challenge.
"I'm just so proud of the kid. Some people will think that's a weird thing to say. But I've been around him a lot and we've become really close friends. I've seen him grow in so many ways off the court," Holmoe said. "I like the kid a ton. I just like him. He doesn't need a lot of pats on the back. He's always ready to go. Whenever I see him, we'll chat for a while. He asks me how things are going for me. He'll ask me about football, and he talks about football. He's just a good guy. I'm glad we had that opportunity to grow closer in our relationship. I love all our student-athletes and that's my favorite part of the job. We've gotten pretty close. It wouldn't have happened without a tough experience like that."
Amid that tough experience, Davies changed — in some ways.
"He's matured quite a bit," said senior guard Brock Zylstra, one of the few current BYU players who was on the team that season. "He's still always going to be a kid, that's his personality. He likes to joke around and have fun. But he's matured as far as decision-making on the court and taking responsibility off the court to improve his game."
Certainly, Davies doesn't take anything for granted.
During the Cougars' run to the Sweet 16 in 2011, he sat on the bench in street clothes, aching to be on the court with his teammates. "It hurt" not being able to play, Davies said. "It's definitely something I'll never forget about and it's something I never want to do again. I just use that to drive me in all that I do today."
Last season, Davies averaged 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and helped the Cougars post a 26-9 record.
Zylstra is impressed by Davies' perseverance.
"I admire him so much because of what he's gone through, and then battling back and having a great season," he said. "He's setting himself up to have an even better season this year. What he's been through, and how he's overcome it, is unbelievable."
It stands as one of the biggest what-ifs in BYU sports history — what if Davies had been able to play with Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery in the NCAA Tournament that season? Maybe BYU would have reached the Final Four for the first time ever.
As devastating as it was for BYU to lose Davies, he was embraced even more by coaches, teammates, fans and the university community, which made his return easier.
"I'm just lucky to be surrounded with people that love me and a great team and great family members and friends," he said.
When his future was uncertain, Davies considered his many options, but he realized where he belonged. "I was working my way back to BYU from the get-go," Davies recalled.
Still, there was a time when Holmoe wasn't sure Davies would return to play for the Cougars.
"At first, I didn't know what to think," he said. "Brandon handled it really well. There was the matter of getting through that. Then when he made certain commitments to come back is when, for me, I said, 'All right, I'll do anything to help you through it.' There were so many people on campus that reached out to him. I was just one of them."
In recent months, Davies has felt a sense of urgency, and has worked tirelessly to prepare for his final season in Provo.
"It's hit me that I'm a senior," he said. "During the summer, I realized it's time to roll, and it bumped up my work ethic."
BYU star linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who suffered the consequences of a mistake that delayed his enrollment at BYU, has forged a tight friendship with Davies.
"We became best friends over some circumstances, similar paths, going through adversity," Van Noy said. "We have a close relationship. I love Brandon. He's happy because he's worked so hard. I've watched him shoot baskets over and over and over. He put in so much hard work in the offseason."
"He worked extremely hard in the summer," Zylstra said. "His work ethic is the best I've seen since I've been here."
Among other things, Davies has spent considerable time expanding his shooting range.
"He's going to demand a lot of attention in the low post," Rose said. "The more ways for him to score away from the basket, the better. I think he's improved his distance on his range every year he's been here. He's very skilled. Trying to mix that low-post toughness and tenacity and finesse on the perimeter is a special thing to have, and hopefully he can continue to develop it."
Davies isn't motivated by individual accolades — for him, it's about the team.
"I like to see progression. That's one thing that's a positive thing, to see that you're getting better and helping other people get better as well," he said. "It becomes contagious. When you're doing that for yourself, other people hop on board with it as well. That's a great part of being on this team."
The Cougars are looking to contend for a West Coast Conference championship, post their seventh consecutive 25-win season and make their seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Davies is determined to make sure BYU reaches those goals and fashion a happy ending to his "really unique" career.
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