Head Coach Kermit Davis Jr.
the 1970s, basketball was king in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, at Middle
Tennessee State University under legendary head coach Jimmy Earle. The
program continued at a high level in the first few years of his
successor and former assistant Stan Simpson, whose 1981-82 squad shocked
the University of Kentucky in the 1982 NCAA tournament 50-44 at Memorial
Gym in Nashville.
While there were some
potent teams under Bruce Stewart in the late 1980s, the program
gradually lost its potency and slipped into a state of decline. Murphy
Center, the Raidersí beautiful arena, was no longer filled to the brim
as it was during the Earle heyday.
But, that is changing
for the better. Optimism abounds in Murfreesboro this year because of
the impact of Coach Kermit Davis, Jr. Coach Davis won 16 games and Sun
Belt Coach of the Year honors in his first season. Last season, the team
won 17 games and, if not for an unfortunate injury to star guard Mike
Dean, might have captured the conference tournament. This season some
prognosticators already have them pegged as a potential NCAA tournament
Coach Davis certainly
believes that his team has the potential to make some noise in the
youíve won 16 and 17 games in your first two seasons. What are your
goals for this season?
A: I like
the progress weíve made with our program. We have good depth. The
assistant coaches have really done a good job with our team.
Everybodyís goal is to win a conference championship. Weíve been second
the last two years. But, our conference is very competitive. There
are five or six really good teams and we are one of them
Q: Is an
NCAA tournament bid a realistic expectation?
A: I sure
think weíre one of 5-6 teams in our league that have a chance. Our
league has been a one-conference bid league for 6-7 years, so it is
tough. But, we have gone in three years from a team with no
expectations to having some positive expectations.
Q: You do
lose Tommy Gunn who was a great player for you. Will you miss him and
how do you replace him?
canít replace him. He was the schoolís third all-time leading scorer
and a guy who missed one practice in two years. He played through nicks
and bruises. Weíll have to try to replace him by committee. He was one
of those rare four-year guys who just had a major impact on our
program. I think he will go down to be considered as one of the best
players to ever play in an MTSU uniform.
speak of four-year players, you now have a one-year player in Steve
Thomas who transferred from Georgia and who is eligible this season.
Will he be a force for you this year?
think he is going to be great. Steve is a physical guy. He has worked
really hard. He is 250 pounds, has 6.5% percent body fat and bench
presses 350 pounds. He has been a pleasure to coach. He has put in 40
hours at a 3.0 grade-point average. I want Steve to do very well. He
hasnít played much basketball [having had to sit out last year as a
transfer]. He will eligible for our Puerto Rico tournament, so he will
miss our first seven games.
year I believe your leading rebounder averaged 5.8 boards a game. Do
you expect Steve to improve on that?
A: I sure
hope so. We started a freshman center last year and were real thin
inside. I think Steve gives us a better and more physical presence
inside. I think he needs to be able to average 8-10 rebounds a game for
other transfer from the University of Georgia, Mike Dean, played very
well for you last year. Can you talk a bit about him?
Dean is a guy who loves to play basketball as much as anybody Iíve ever
coached. He breaks his hand last year right before our conference
tournament which hurt us. He has also been a very good leader. He was
selected as a pre-season first-team all conference and I think he is
have raved about your freshman class last year. Have they improved
during the off-season and early this season?
Bryan Smithson started as a freshman point guard last year for us. He
has improved with great competition with Fats Cuyler. Freshman center
Kyle Young has gained 10-15 pounds. Keith Christmas is playing well.
All of our guys have progressed.
there a player who may surprise us this year or someone deserving of
Cuffee at the end of last year was our best player. He was hurt a lot
early but when he came back healthy, our team changed. He made the
all-Sun Belt tournament team last season. He is one of the most
underrated players in the conference. He is a 6-5 guy who can shoot
the three. He is an outstanding player for us.
program was at great heights in the days of Jimmy Earle with the crowds
and atmosphere. Can you bring the program back to that level?
coming back. Attendance has increased 66% in the last two years. We
still have a long way to go but weíve made a lot of progress. We broke
an attendance record last year with more than 11,000 at the Western
Kentucky game. There is more of a buzz about the program, but it is a
slow process. Times have changed since the 1970s and 1980s for
mid-level programs, because of so much TV and the entertainment dollar
has been stretched in this area. It might be a tougher sell but I am a
really proud of our direction.
I notice you have Belmont and Tennessee State on the schedule this
year. Have you consciously been trying to get these in-state rivalry
games back for MTSU?
A: Yes, I
want to renew the in-state rivalries. Belmont has a good program and Cy
Alexander (the coach of Tennessee State University) will get that thing
brought back there. We have brought back Austin Peay (in Clarksville,
Tenn. Ė a former classic OVC rival with MTSU). We will play UTC-Chattanooga
next year. There are some really good teams in our area and we want to
youíve had the opportunity to learn under some great coaches. Can you
talk about some of your coaching influences?
my father was a huge influence. [Davisí father, Kermit Davis, Sr. was
head coach of Mississippi State for seven seasons in the 1970s]. I
grew up with one of those fairy-tale childhoods where I got to travel
with my father around the SEC. It was an asset to him. Coach Bob Boyd
gave me my first job as a G.A. (graduate assistant) at Mississippi State
and he was unbelievable teacher. I worked under Tim Floyd at Idaho. I
didnít understand how to work until I worked with Tim. Iíve also worked
with some other really great coaches such as Larry Eustachy and John
Brady. Iíve been blessed to work with many great coaches.
what are your personal, basketball goals? Will you stay at MTSU?
moved all around this country with basketball. I have two daughters
who love Murfreesboro. That is not just coach-talk; my family really
loves it here. We work for a great administration at MTSU.
Additionally, my brother lives in Olive Branch, Mississippi, my sister
lives in Memphis, Tenn, and my dad lives in Tupelo, Mississippi. I love
the area and I would like to stay here and continue to build this
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