The discussion about what Dee Davis was begins with defining what he wasn't. He was not blessed with size; Xavier graciously listed him at six feet tall and - by his senior year - 170 pounds, but he was at least a couple of inches shorter than that and looked like he weighed about a buck fifty soaking wet. He wasn't an explosive athlete; I'm not sure I ever saw him dunk. In a game built for bigger, faster men, he was tough, determined, and - in the end - a worthy successor in the Xavier line of guards who wanted the ball with the clock winding down.
When Dee stepped onto campus, he was the recruit who would spend his first year as an apprentice to Tu Holloway. Listed at 5'10", 155-160 by most recruiting services and sporting an ear-to-ear grin in every available picture, he was the gleeful counterpoint to Holloway's brooding on-court genius. By the time he graduated, his body had matured into something that could almost deal with the ridiculous amount of abuse he put it through on a regular basis.
Fearlessness was always Dee's calling card on the floor, and it showed in the way the season took a toll on him. Only this year did he make it through an entire campaign without missing a game due to injury, and he played through all manner of niggling ailments to achieve it. If you didn't see Dee play early in his freshman year, you probably never saw him playing at 100%.
That same fortitude came through in Dee's game. Despite consistently being smaller than the man he was assigned to guard, he forged himself into a formidable off-ball defender that shooters around the league (I'm looking at you, Kelli Dunham) will be happy to see graduate. He was confident in his own abilities - maybe too confident on the occasional 1-on-3 fast break - to the point that he stepped onto the court in the second round of the NCAA tournament as a freshman averaging 7 minutes in his past 10 games and hit two big threes to keep Xavier within touching distance of Lehigh.
Dee Davis is an elite decision maker
Dee is the top name on the PG depth chart for Xavier. Despite his overtly gaudy ball-distribution stats, he has a segment of Xavier fans insisting they won't miss him when he graduates.
Dee had to prove himself to a large segment of the fans every year. First Semaj Christon and then Brandon Randolph were supposed to relegate him to a supporting role. Instead he defended his playing time against those two and every other point or combo guard on the roster. By the time Dee's career was in its stretch run, Coach Mack would only take him out for foul trouble or a missing appendage.
In a lot of ways, circumstances could have been more kind to Dee. He carved out a 75-3 record as a starter in high-school as a pass-first point guard who could also score. By the time he stepped into a starting role at Xavier, recruiting misses and the losses of Dez Wells and Mark Lyons before their respective times had left him with precious few people to whom he could pass.
Despite that, he improved every season aside from a dreadful shooting slump as a senior. His turnover rate fell every year he started. His assist rate climbed every year he started, from a very good 23.7% as a sophomore to an elite 33.5% as a senior. His minutes consistently rose as Coach Mack trusted him with more responsibility and he answered the bell each time.
For all of that, Dee's legacy was cemented on February 18th of this year. A team that would end up with a six seed and a Sweet 16 berth was then clinging to the bubble and heading into a Crosstown Shootout it could ill-afford to lose. Right after the first media timeout, Dee - who Cinci's scouting report said to walk away from at the three-point arc - splashed a three. With 6:42 left in the first half, he buried another one to tie the game. The next time down, he hit another to put Xavier up by three and prompt a timeout from the UC bench. With five seconds left in the half, he caught a pass from Myles Davis and made it 4-4 from behind the arc and put Xavier up 36-24 at the interval.
Then Dee went quiet. With UC's defense keying on him in the second half, he shot 0-2 in the first 19 minutes of the period. The Bearcats' defensive efforts had erased Xavier's advantage, and 17 points in 19 minutes had turned the Muskies' romp into a two-point deficit with 1:03 left in the game when Coach Mack called timeout to draw up a play. The result of that play was Dee launching his signature high-arcing three from deep on the right wing off of a kick out from Matt Stainbrook.
You have a lot of time to think when a Dee Davis three ball is in the air. Dee will go down in history as the only Musketeer to play two years in the A-10 and two years in the Big East. That fact alone might illustrate what he meant to the program. In a lot of ways, he was emblematic of the bridge between a team that owned a mid-major conference and a true basketball powerhouse. He was knocked for not having a Big East body, which made sense because he barely had an A-10 body. Like Xavier, he was easily underestimated but tenaciously committed to getting the absolute most out of the resources he had.
Dee is the kind of player that makes Xavier special. Players who spend an entire four-year career with a program generate a bond with the fans that can't be replicated by high-level recruits stopping by to bide their time before moving on to get paid to play. A lifelong fan of a program necessarily has more time invested in it than a player will, but with guys like Dee you can see (or maybe just imagine) that he is a Xavier Musketeer as much as he's a college basketball player. We rode his highs and lows with him for four years, and we trust that he will carry the special bond with the program that is evident with Stan Burrell and Justin Doellman and Jason Love and David West and a host of others into whatever he does next.
I wasn't thinking any of that as the ball hung in the air. I was thinking, "Please God, let Dee be the hero and not the goat." God obliged. Dee's final shot of the night nestled gently through the strings, putting Xavier up one in a game they'd go on to win by two. Considering the stakes, the venue, and how tightly contested the game was, Dee's 16/3/8 with just 1 turnover on 5-8/5-5/1-2 shooting - all without spending a single second of game time off the court - was unquestionably his best performance in a Xavier uniform.
Xavier is trending up as a program. They will eventually hang a Final Four banner at Cintas and hopefully a National Championship one right next to it. When they do, I hope everyone involved takes a moment to think back on the unheralded players who fought tooth and nail to drag themselves and their team to the top level of collegiate basketball competition. When the Musketeers finally reach the mountaintop, it will be because they are standing on the shoulders of giants like Dee Davis.