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Friday, April 20, 2007

BJ-LEAGUE

Eyes on the prize: Davis wants bj-league title for Albirex


Staff writer

For the Niigata Albirex BB, there's been one unifying goal this season: to return to the bj-league championship game.

News photo
Niigata's Nick Davis led the bj-league in field-goal percentage with a mark of 63.1 this season. NIIGATA ALBIREX PHOTO

They are two games away.

This season, the Albirex finished 25-15, tying the Takamatsu Five Arrows for the league's second-best record. The teams square off on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the playoff semifinals at Tokyo's Ariake Colosseum.

Osaka meets the Oita HeatDevils at 3 p.m. in the first semifinal. The winners meet on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. in the title game.

The Osaka Evessa defeated the Albirex 74-64 on April 30, 2006, to win the bj-league's first-ever championship game. Niigata finished the season with a 30-12 record.

Sure, 30 wins were nice for Masaya Hirose's squad, but, yes, 31 would've been much nicer.

Just ask Nick Davis.

"Making it to the championship game and then losing by (10 points), that makes you want to work even harder," said Davis, the team's starting center.

"You know what the taste is like and you want to taste it again. It has definitely been on our minds all season."

Despite losing three of four games to the Five Arrows in the regular season, Davis said his team's effort against the first-year club was misleading.

"We blew those games. We didn't capitalize on it," said Davis, The Japan Times' All-First Team center.

To beat Takamatsu on Saturday, Niigata needs "to run, get the ball inside, take every loose ball -- every loose ball is ours as a possession," Davis said.

"We need to show them that we want it more."

"They are definitely a bigger team," Davis said, referring to the Five Arrows' interior presence of Reggie Warren, Julius Ashby and Isaac Sojourner.

"That is why we have to rely on our work ethic."

Davis, 30, is a prototypical veteran leader. He is vocal at times, but lets his performance on the court serve as an example for the team's younger players.

It is a powerful example.

Davis averaged 18.3 points per game. He was second in the league in rebounding (13.8 per game) and third in blocks (1.6).

What's more, he was the league's most accurate shooter on field goals, making 63.1 percent of his attempts. And he took a lot of them -- 480 to be precise, 304 of which dropped through the bottom of the net.

(Oita HeatDevils center Chris Ayer was second at 57.3 percent, but he took 194 less shots.)

For a team that relies on quickness at both ends of the floor, Davis, a 203-cm performer, is a good fit at center. He is a fleet-footed big man with a strong post-up game and a nice mid-range jump shot.

"I have always been able to rebound and block shots," he said.

His offensive game, however, has been a constant work in progress in a career that has included stints in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, France, Italy and the Dominican Republic.

Davis was born in Long Island, N.Y., and moved to Columbia, S.C., before his freshman year of high school.

In that environment, he thrived learning the ins and outs of the game. He came into contact with a plethora of NBA mentors in his new hometown -- guys named Tyrone Corbin, Alex English, Xavier McDaniel, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen took him under their wings, he said.

"My high school coach was like a father to me," Davis said of Carl Williams.

The two remain close.

"I just talked to him the other day," Davis admitted.

After high school, Davis spent one season at Gulf Coast (Fla.) Community College and then transferred to the University of Arkansas, where he played from 1995-98.

Like many foreign players in the bj-league, Davis was a very good college player, but he wasn't NBA material.

He gave it his all, though, to pursue his dream of playing in the world's top hoops league. He had training camp tryouts for three NBA clubs: the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics.

He also spent two seasons playing for the CBA's Sioux Falls Skyforce.

"I was on the verge in the CBA . . . of getting a call-up (to the NBA)," he said. "My agent had told me Cleveland had called them. My coach had said they asked about me and were considering calling me up. But that night, he said they were going to make a decision that night and to go out and play well and that they based it on that game."

How did Davis respond?

He had 19 points, 32 rebounds and seven blocked shots. He didn't get the call, though.

"I'll never forget that," Davis says now. "I knew during the game I was just in a groove as far as rebounding . . . and I just played so hard."

He continues to play that way. And he continues to improve.

Credit goes to Coach Hirose, a true teacher, for making that happen.

Davis said, "He really pushes you and gets the best out of you. (He's) really worked hard with me and actually coached me. I can say I have actually gotten better each year I have been here."

The key, Davis added, is that Hirose "is really big on details and pays attention to details."

Davis' first stint in Japan was 2000-01, when he played for Denso in the JBL. He is now a third-year member of the Albirex, playing for the team in its transition from the JBL to the fledgling bj-league.

After seven summers of playing pro ball in Puerto Rico, Davis married Chantell last summer in Atlanta. He speaks with a hint of satisfaction about his life during the interview, but also reveals something about his mind-set as a competitor.

"If I were to be here five years and was (all-league) first team all five years, they (the fans) wouldn't remember that. They would remember that I didn't win a championship, and that is the important thing for me," Davis concluded.



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