A program like Xavier needs players like Dee Davis. More specifically, it needs players who show up as freshmen with potential and flaws, spend some time learning from and observing the upperclassmen in front of them, and then step into the gap when those players move forward. Xavier can't afford too many talented but unpredictable players like Justin Martin, or recruiting busts like Griffin McKenzie, or incomprehensible mixtures of both like Jeff Robinson. Xavier depends on player development because, to paraphrase Rick Pitino, Anthony Davis isn't walking through that door.
Before he showed up on campus, we took a couple of looks at what Dee brought to the table. High points included his court vision and ability to advance the ball quickly in transition, as well as his willingness to get stuck in where bigger men generally roam. Areas we targeted for improvement were on-ball defense and the pace of his shot's release. Obviously, size was a big concern as well, but it's hard to tell someone to get taller and expect results. Though Dee was a winner in high school (75-3, two state championships), we finished by saying that "his ability to adapt to the college game and improve his defense and jump shooting will ultimately decide how far Davis goes as a Muskie."
Dee got his feet wet by becoming a sticky off-ball defender. While he is something resembling average on the ball, his low center of gravity, quickness, and tenacity make him a nightmare for a catch-and-shoot player to try to elude. His work against Butler (who I chose because [a] they have catch-and-shoot guys and [b] I hate them) bears that out. Last year, he harassed noted gunner Rotnei Clarke into a shooting line of 8-25/4-15/8-8 over the course of two games, and this year he was a large part of holding Kelli Dunham to 3-10/2-5/3-6 despite picking up a couple of fouls that won't go on a Dee Davis YouTube reel. If you're a guy who likes to operate off the ball, come into the Xavier game assuming you're going to have Dee Davis in your hip pocket for 35 minutes.
Every step of the way, Davis's offense has gotten a little bit better. His shooting percentage from beyond the arc has shown a year-to-year improvement from .293 to .368 to .400 this season as both his shot and his shot selection have matured. His ability to get to the free throw line has held steady once he started getting consistent minutes, but he has gone from 6-12 from the stripe as a freshman to 34-39 (87.2%) this season. Combine that with his increased efficiency from deep and a steadily climbing 2P% and Dee is scoring 8.5 PPG this year despite taking only 14.6% of the team's shots when he is on the floor.
Perhaps more importantly for a guard filling his role, Dee's ability to make good decisions with the ball has grown in his time at Xavier. He has demonstrated a natural flair for attempting the perfect pass, but his TO% of 29.3% as a freshman and 28% last year give you some indication of how that occasionally went awry for him. This year - and especially since Xavier has returned from the Bahamas - Dee has been making better decisions regarding when to take a risk with the ball in an attempt to get an easy bucket and when to pull it back out and run sets.
The numbers back up this anecdotal evidence, with his TO% down to 23.9% while his assist rate has climbed from 13.1% as a freshman to 23.7% last year and 26.9% so far this season. After sitting out the first two games of the season, Dee averaged 3.8 assists and 2.5 turnovers in his first six and Xavier went 3-3. Since then, he has averaged 5 assists and 1.7 turnovers and the Muskies are is 9-1.
Dee has also stepped into the role previously held by Dante Jackson and Stanley Burrell as the Xavier guard who cajoles the best efforts out of his teammates. Davis has demonstrated his fortitude many times over, whether it was sticking two huge threes in the NCAA tournament against Lehigh as a freshman, fighting through an accumulation of pain for a 17-win team last year, or his willingness to get inside and draw charges from much larger men. It's hard to imagine there's anyone in the program who doesn't respect his game, and when he pulls the strings on the floor, his teammates respond.
Over the past two and a half years, Darwin Davis, Jr. has grown from a three-star recruit overshadowed by the best backcourt in the nation to an underrated and vital component on a winning team. Guys like Dee don't ever get that much love from national reporters, but his steady maturation in the system has been the kind of thing that keeps the Xavier program on the right track.