Valley's Caleb Davis finds role for Duquesne hoops
Those who follow college basketball closely have seen the situation.
It's late in the game, one team is comfortably ahead and the coach peers down to the end of the bench and tells the walk-ons to take off their warm-ups and check into the game.
Valley graduate Caleb Davis, a walk-on at Duquesne, experienced that moment for the first time last year when the Dukes played Massachusetts. Davis, admittedly nervous, got open and hit a layup for his first career basket while the starters cheered from the bench.
“That was the first live basketball game I had been a part of in a while,” Davis said. “I was close with three or four guys on the team who were encouraging me to shoot the ball. I remember when I made that first layup, they went pretty crazy. It was a really fun feeling to be cheered on by some of my best friends.”
It was a welcome-to-college-basketball moment for Davis, but it just scratches the surface of his story — how he went from not having any intentions to play in college, to signing up to be a student manager, to being a walk-on on a Duquesne team that is surprising many early in A-10 play this season.
Under first-year coach Keith Dambrot, the Dukes (15-8, 6-4) are in fifth place in the A-10 after winning only three conference games a year ago. Duquesne last had a winning season in 2011 and last made the NCAA Tournament in 1977.
Davis, a redshirt sophomore, has appeared in four games, once in A-10 play at Fordham, and scored on a layup against Delaware State.
“He works really hard at his game,” Dambrot said. “Sometimes he works harder than some of the scholarship guys. He comes in early and stays late. He cares about being good, and sometimes he doesn't get the reward as far as playing time, but it's a tribute to his character that he comes in and does a good job for us.”
Davis is enjoying the ride the Dukes have been on, which has included a triple-overtime win over La Salle last month and a double-OT win over George Mason.
“It's totally different from last year, from the big-picture stuff to the little details,” Davis said. “When we started to move toward conference play we figured out how to get into a rhythm, how we play our best and what it's going to take to win. Coach Dambrot has done a great job of describing that to us.”
Playing in four games at the Division I level didn't seem like a reality to Davis two years ago when he first came to Duquesne.
At the convincing of his father, Davis became a student manager his freshman year.
Being a student manager entailed everything from getting uniforms ready to taking stats on the bench during games. He participated in the student manager games that have been publicized on social media by ESPN's Jay Bilas.
The job rekindled Davis' passion for the game, and a grad assistant under former Dukes coach Jim Ferry who played with Davis in the student manager games asked him if he would consider walking on.
He decided to pursue the goal by working out all summer with the team and was offered a spot as a walk-on in the fall of 2016.
After Ferry was fired at the end of last season, Davis was unsure of his future. He quickly found he wanted to play for and learn from Dambrot.
“Coach Dambrot is really detail-oriented, and I think that's awesome,” Davis said. “That's how I am personally. I'm into details. Especially as a basketball player I like learning and figuring out the different parts of the game. That's how Coach Dambrot is, and I think that's something that maybe we were missing in the last couple of years.”
Davis feels more comfortable now that he's back in game shape, and he puts those details he's learning into action. He routinely goes up against Duquesne's leading scorer, Mike Lewis II, in practice. He also does some work on the scout team that helps the team prepare for each opponent. Davis said matching up with Lewis has been fun and competitive and that Lewis is a good teammate.
“Our guys respect (Davis) because he brings it every day and competes every day,” Dambrot said. “They want him to do well. Hopefully we can get him out there a little more. There have been a lot of guys who were walk-ons that have played and play vital roles for teams. If he keeps putting the time in, you never know what could happen.”
Davis is appreciative that he gets to play for Duquesne, the same team Valley greats B.B. Flenory and Tom Pipkins starred on in the past.
“It's been the most fun I've had in a long time,” Davis said. “I've enjoyed this season so far, and I'm looking forward to the next couple of years with Coach Dambrot.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.