By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
When Michael Davis first came to Stillwater, basketball was more of an afterthought — a way to transition from the end of the football season to the start of the baseball season.
Now, several years and another summer later, Davis looks to continue to take the program to new heights.
“We have a standard,” Davis said. “Those guys understand. We’ve been blessed and lucky that our guys want to reach the standard set by the previous team. They understand what’s at stake. We try not to put any more pressure on them than what’s already on them. We want them to be comfortable out there and have fun playing.”
Davis hasn’t always had the most talented teams. If you ask him, he’d probably say some of his teams were a little under developed when it comes to talent. But it’s that standard — a standard that begins in summer camps and on junior high teams — that has helped produce successful teams year after year.
“That’s the key to us,” Davis said. “We get to work with those kids when they’re in junior high. That’s our feeding ground. They’re used to being around us. This summer, I’d bet that our younger guys played anywhere from 20 to 30 games. We’ve never done that before — that’s huge. They were around us every step of the way and they’re involved in Pioneer Pride, which is something that we get to do and are very involved in with our coaches. We work with them for about an hour after we get done lifting weights. So they become accustomed to us and it gives us an idea of what kind of team we could have the following year.”
While the summer may be a time for some of the younger players to pick up on Davis’ system, they aren’t the only ones using the summer to learn a few new tricks. Davis — along with the rest of his coaching staff — will not only attend camps at Oklahoma State to gain insight from Travis Ford and his staff, but they will routinely learn things from each other.
“I have great coaches,” Davis said. “They never get the credit they have coming to them. Coach (Derrick) Vernon and I have been together for a while now — 13 years — and coach (Kyle) Love has been with us two years. They bring in a new, different kind of perspective, along with our ninth-grade coach who is very involved.
“Working at all these different camps and stuff at OSU, I get to see different things from different coaches, so I try to apply some of those things during the summer so we can see how they work with our guys. That way when we get into the season we have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.”
No matter how good a basketball coach is at his job, there’s only so much teaching that can go on before players’ minds start to become overloaded. It’s at that point when Davis asks for a little help — turning to the Pioneer stars of the past to help guide younger players through the toughest times.
“A big part of what we do is have our older guys teach our younger guys,” Davis said. “Dylan Murrell is still around and he helps out. We have guys like Josh Pierre and Joe Pierre, then you got Alex Budke still here in town, I mean what better teachers could you have? They’ve heard about them, but now they get to see some of these guys that are still playing in college and it’s like a light goes off in their head.
“They’re like the big brothers and they don’t want to see a drop off in the program. That’s why they come back, to make sure things are going the way they left them. It started with Alex Budke’s senior year, that was really when things began to explode around here. So they want to make sure that those guys keep it rolling.”
Despite so much success in recent history, Davis said his job is nowhere near finished. He doesn’t just want to get Stillwater to the state tournament — he wants to bring the gold ball back.
And it’s that attitude that has helped him stay grounded and push the team harder and harder each season.
“You stay grounded because we haven’t done what we really want to do,” Davis said. “We try to stay humble and keep working to get to our goal. We’re not satisfied with where we’re at. We know that there’s things that are better, and to us, we believe the best is yet to come. That’s what we’re striving for. We take the past for what it is and use it to motivate us to go forward.”