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Interview w/ Head Coach Kermit Davis Jr.

By David Hudson, Jr.

November 30th


Interview:   MTSU Head Coach Kermit Davis Jr.


In 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 team.   


Coach Davis certainly believes that his team has the potential to make some noise in the conference. 


Q:            Coach 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?


A:             You 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. 


Q:            You 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?


A:             I 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. 


Q:            Last 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 us. 


Q:            Your other transfer from the University of Georgia, Mike Dean, played very well for you last year.  Can you talk a bit about him?


A:             Mike 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 very deserving.


Q:            People have raved about your freshman class last year.  Have they improved during the off-season and early this season?


A:             Yes, 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. 


Q:            Is there a player who may surprise us this year or someone deserving of special mention?  


A:             Mike 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.


Q:            The 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?  


A:             Itís 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.    


Q:            Coach, 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 play them.


Q:            Coach, youíve had the opportunity to learn under some great coaches.  Can you talk about some of your coaching influences?


A:             Well, 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.


Q:            Coach what are your personal, basketball goals?  Will you stay at MTSU?


A:             Iíve 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 program.


Learn more about the author David Huson and how to contact him here


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