On the road versus East Carolina in a tightly contested game, UCF’s redshirt sophomore forward A.J. Davis seemed to have ice water in his veins, draining a three-point bomb with a minute left in regulation, thus leading the UCF Knights to a 71-68 opening conference game victory.
Davis did what he’s done all season, matching his career-high with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists.
But it’s his basketball IQ and do-it-all mentality that puts him in positions to succeed.
Evidence of this came earlier this season in a game against UMass when Davis timed an alley-oop attempt perfectly, snatching it away from the offensive player while in the air.
“I watch a lot of basketball, I watch a lot of film. I really study it. I feel like I could tell that he was about to throw the oop and I feel like even if he didn’t I still could get back and guard him,” Davis said.
Davis’ knowledge and love for the game stems from his exposure to it at a high level from an early age, watching his dad play and working as a ball boy for the New York Knicks.
His dad, forward/center Antonio Davis, played 13 seasons in the NBA garnering an all-star appearance with the Toronto raptors in the 2000-01 season, with career averages of 10 points and eight rebounds per game.
“As I get older, I just have an appreciation for how hard he played. My dad’s never mad at me when I miss shots or when I turn the ball over or I don’t have enough assists or enough rebounds. All he judges me on is if I play hard,” Davis said.
Davis attended Buford High School in Georgia his junior and senior year, drawing interest from universities such as Georgia, Clemson and Auburn as a three-star recruit.
He ultimately chose Knoxville, Tennessee, as his collegiate home, but the marriage with the Volunteers did not reach a sophomore season.
Davis averaged 1.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in nine minutes per contest in his freshman year as a Volunteer after Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin left for California. Following the 2013-14 season, he felt it was time to move on.
“I was really close with Cuonzo Martin, so being at Tennessee, I didn’t want to play for anybody else,” Davis said. “The experience that I had there, that was like a family, I still talk to those guys every single day … I didn’t want to be at Tennessee and not be with my family anymore.”
As Davis searched for a new school to transfer to, UCF’s former coach Brendan Suhr, who also coached his dad when he was with the Knicks, helped navigate A.J. to his next stop.
He looked at big schools such as Michigan State and UConn, but UCF was the place that seemed like the right fit for him because the coaches believed in him from the jump.
Head coach Donnie Jones felt he was a hand-to-glove fit from a basketball standpoint. A 6-foot-9 forward who could play multiple positions and saw the whole game was just what he was looking for.
“A.J. has a little Jalen Rose in his game, lefty … high basketball IQ. I played him at the three, I played him at the one, I played him at the four — he’s evolved and adjusted to pretty much anything we put at him,” Jones said.
In December, Davis averaged a team-high 14 points, six rebounds and four assists.
But A.J. Davis isn’t content with his individual success. He wants the team to achieve its goals as a program.
“My goals never have anything to do with what I want. It’s what we said we wanted to do as a program, it’s bigger than just me,” Davis said. “I want this whole school to be known as a powerhouse basketball team … all of us try to compete in every game and change the culture into what we want this to be.”
Chirstopher Davis is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future.