Becoming one of the best players on the team while coming off the bench for a majority of the season can be described as a difficult goal. Florida Atlantic guard Johnell Davis has proven that this can be achieved.
Davis has shown immense growth since head coach Dusty May recruited his services at 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Indiana, which happens to be May's home state. He averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 3.2 assists per game in his senior year, helping the Cougars to a fourth straight sectional championship.
Getting his feet wet at FAU by putting up averages of 3.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and one assist in 22 appearances during his freshman campaign, Davis nearly doubled most of his numbers the following year. He turned in 6.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, an assist, and a steal throughout 34 contests of the 2021-22 season. He was already showing signs of being a key player in the Owls' rotation, being scrappy on the defensive side of the ball while getting more comfortable with shooting the ball from anywhere on the court.
What many people may not have realized about Davis was that he was on the path to exploding in the 2022-23 season. He emerged as the team's top scorer with 13.8 points a night in 37 games (21 off the bench), including a career night when he dropped 36 against a talented UAB squad. It is the fourth-most in a single game in FAU history and only three shy of the Owl record.
He showcases plentiful amounts of swagger on the court, boasting a crafty handle that allows him to get any shot he wishes as his ability to shoot off the dribble and from the perimeter improved by a wide margin compared to past seasons. The way he can pop up from anywhere with the moves he has in his arsenal to score at will can best describe him as a magician on offense.
His hard work would be recognized by Conference USA, winning the conference's Sixth Player of the Year while landing a spot on the First Team. Already showing he deserved it throughout the regular season, Davis took it a step further by giving excellent performances in the C-USA Tournament as he scored 16.6 points on 53.3% shooting. This included back-to-back 18-point outings against Middle Tennessee in the semifinals and UAB in the championship game, as he was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Davis would go on to cement himself in the record books of March Madness. In the Owls' matchup against FDU in the second round, he became the first player to score 25+ points, grab 10+ rebounds, dish out 5+ assists and tally 5+ steals in an NCAA Tournament game since steals became an official stat in 1986.
"I've been trying to prove this s**t since day one," Davis memorably said after the game. This moment did go viral with him accidentally swearing live on television, but the intention of his message was certainly received.
Davis went on to have great performances throughout the tournament before the Owls ultimately saw their run end in the loss to San Diego State in the Final Four. He averaged 15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.6 steals on 41.4% shooting from the field and a spectacular 89.7% from the charity stripe.
During the offseason, he tested the waters of potentially playing in the pros as he declared for the NBA Draft. He had the astounding opportunity of playing in the NBA G-League Elite Camp, where he demonstrated to the many scouts who were there what he can bring to the table. The teams he had the utmost pleasure of doing pre-draft workouts with are his hometown Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, and Utah Jazz.
Heading into the 2023-24 season back with the Owls, Davis is working on getting his teammates involved more frequently and improving his shooting from the perimeter, parts of his game that NBA scouts told him he needed to work on. While the latter is an area he has progressed in year-by-year, his struggles became apparent when he only made three of his 19 attempts for a three-point rate of 15.8% during the NCAA Tournament.
As much as Davis likes to look back on everything he and the team did throughout their run to the Final Four, he is putting it in the past as he is focused on this upcoming season.
"There's a quote I go by that says, 'Old keys don't unlock new doors'," Davis said, showing he understands he needs to keep getting better to give himself a better chance of playing in the pros next year or 2025 at the latest.
He said coach Dusty May has helped him take in the feedback NBA scouts provided, giving him confidence while staying on him to know what he needs to do to continue refining himself as a player.
"Obviously, Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin are very well-decorated, and deservedly so. They did so many things for us last year and they're both significantly better than last season," May explained regarding the development of Davis and his fellow teammate.
"Johnell, with his three-point shot, can be more of a weapon from deep on the court with his first step and his versatility in the post and slashing. His three-point shot needs to be 40% or higher to accomplish those goals."
This year will bring a lot of expectations to the Owls and especially Davis, who is slated alongside Martin as Preseason co-Players of the Year by the American Athletic Conference, but if there is anyone who can live up to these standards, Davis is that guy. After all, he's been proving himself since day one.