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February 3, 2012Dr. Tom Davis arrived on the Iowa campus in the spring of 1986 and after meeting his new team of Hawkeyes for the first time, he thought this could be a pretty good team. Little did he imagine that Iowa team would go on to win 30 games and become of the legendary squads in Hawkeye history. He talks about how that team developed and their reunion this weekend.
Q: You come to Iowa from Stanford. What were your first impressions once you had the chance to meet the team?
DAVIS: I think I had some thoughts coming in from the people coming in. Of course I had talked to Bump Elliott about it, John Strief is a guy that I met early on that gave me some thoughts on the guys on the team. I had run into Jim Valvano in an airport after I had taken the job and he had given a great recommendation of the players and how good they were. I hired Rudy Washington off of George Raveling's staff, so that gave me some insight into the guys. I brought Gary Close and Bruce Pearl from the Stanford staff and Rudy gave us some continuity.
When I met the guys, you never know what to expect as a new coach coming into a program. You don't know how they are going to receive you. Are they going to open their arms to you and what you are trying to do and will they do it or not. But, I sensed a real willingness from the guys and an openness to the new ideas. I had some real positive feelings as I think back on it.
Q: In today's game you see guys always having some second thoughts about a new coach. Were there any reservations that any of the players expressed about jumping on board?
DAVIS: Not too much that I can recall. I think there are always some guys that talk about transferring and going on to another place and I'm sure there was some of that early on. The only one that I remember for sure was I had one players dad call me. I was on the job a few days and he said his son was considering transferring. This player was highly recommended. Everyone talked about what a great person and student he was and that they thought he had very good potential as a player. I asked the dad where his son was looking at going and he said Central Michigan. I thought, that didn't sound right because everyone was building him up in my eyes as someone who could be a good Big Ten player. I asked why he was considering leaving. Was he homesick? He said no, he loved Iowa. He had been given the impression that he wasn't good enough to play in the Big Ten. That player was B.J. Armstrong. His dad is a great person and they have a great family. I asked him to give me a chance with him and let me work with him and see how it goes. If it doesn't work, then I will help him transfer. Well it didn't take me too long to figure out that because of the fast breaking style of play and the pressure defense that he would be a real good fit and that is how it turned out to be.
Q: You were fortunate enough to have a Far East foreign tour that summer. How beneficial was it to you as a coach to get those games and practices under your belt as a new coach coming into the program?
DAVIS: You can't even begin to measure it. In my whole career, every time I had the opportunity to take a team on a trip, I think I had done it twice before at Stanford and Boston College, and every time it helped me so much and it helped the team. I think it helped the players understand what we were looking for and help them better their own position and improve. This one as a new coach was very valuable because we were changing two or three guys from their previous positions. Brad Lohaus had played a lot of center as a 7 footer and to me he was better at the front of the pressure defense and out on the floor as a trailer in the offense where he could shoot more from the outside. I switched Kevin Gamble from inside to outside and let him play some small forward and second guard. B.J. didn't play much his freshman year and I don't know how much they thought of him as a scoring guard or play making guard. To me he appeared to be more of a point guard. You learn those things as you get to practice with them and you get a chance to try your drills and see if it fits. Then eventually you get to see how they look in those games on the trip itself.
The other part of it that is harder to quantify is how much they learned to get along better with each other. I think it really helps to develop chemistry because there are always things that happen on a trip that you don't expect and sometimes you aren't treated real well by the refs in China or Korea and those things bring a team together. There were so many benefits to that trip that I don't know if I could count them all.
Q: Was there a moment when you started working with these guys when you realized, this group of guys are just about perfect for my style of play and what I want my team to execute on the court?
DAVIS: I did know right away that I was blessed with some really good players. Coach Raveling had done a great job of recruiting. Of course, Coach Olsen was there and then Coach Raveling came in for three years, so Brad Lohaus was actually signed by Coach Olsen. I think Al Lorenzen was recruited by Coach Olsen and signed by Coach Raveling. The thing that impressed me so much was how coachable they all were. I wasn't sure how good we could be because some of them were pretty untested. Kevin Gamble and Brad Lohaus were pretty much untested. B.J. was untested and didn't play a whole lot in his freshman year and they ended up being three pretty important parts of the team. Eddie Horton and Roy Marble, being McDonald's All Americans, it was pretty easy to see how they would contribute. You didn't have to watch Gerry Wright too long to realize he was a very gifted player. The rest of the guys, many of who contributed, were so coachable and they all worked so hard. Some of them were willing to be role players in that first year and come off the bench and contribute. I appreciate what the previous staffs did in recruiting the talent, but also the attitude because they were really good guys to coach. I had very few problems with them and I don't ever remember having to motivate them. They were able to get themselves motivated and knew what to do and how to do it.
Q: What do you remember about those opening games at the Great Alaskan Shootout and winning those three games up there.
DAVIS: I was talking to someone the other day and they reminded me that in that first game, Alaska-Anchorage had us down with like seven minutes to go. They were a D2 team. NC State had us down big in the second game. I remember that we had lost to the Russians in the exhibition game. In looking at some of the other non-conference games, we struggled in some of those two. It wasn't like we were blowing people out. The Cal-Irvine was like 103-102 or something like that, so we weren't beating people by a lot of points.
I think coming from behind in some of those early games showed the willingness and the depth that we had. It wasn't like we were world beaters at the start of the season, but that team got better as the season went on.
Q: You had some injuries early in that season that you had to deal with. One thing that people forget about was that Michael Reaves was right there with B.J. as the point guard and might have been your starter to open the season if he didn't get hurt. Also Gerry Wright broke his hand early in the year too.
DAVIS: Yep, that's exactly right. In fact in talking to people early on, Michael Reaves was considered ahead of B.J. at the time. He was considered to be the better point guard and I'm sure that's what B.J. felt going in and he probably felt that was what the coaches were conveying to him that he wasn't as good. You never know, but Michael had a pretty serious leg problem and he was probably never the same. That opened the door for B.J. Then Gerry Wright had the fracture in his arm and that opened the door for Eddie Horton to become a really important part of that team. Gerry did come back and play, but who knows how good he would have been had he been 100%. Or how good we would have been if he were 100% and Michael was healthy. That's part of the game, but I think because we had all that depth that is the reason we had success. Some nights you are going to have foul trouble or guys get sick or have a bad night, so that's why you need that depth.
Q: Do you have moment where you knew this season could be pretty special? Was there a game or a moment where it hit you?
DAVIS: As I look back at it now, I don't remember ever thinking that way. I think what I probably thought was with my coaching style you finish one game and you evaluate it and then you look to what you have to do to improve and then look to the next day and then just keep going in that manner. You didn't let long term thoughts creep in too much. It's a next game mentality all the time. What can we improve and stuff like that. I just remember short term getting ready for the next game and what we have to do to win that game.
Q: You got to 15-0 and the next three were at Illinois, at Purdue, and home against Indiana. Talk about that stretch. You hit #1. What was that like for you?
DAVIS: I think looking back you see that and think how tough it was. (laugh) I mean, those were good teams, but that whole. Jud Heathcote was up at Michigan State. You know Minnesota was going to be good. You knew Michigan was a problem. Northwestern was always tough on their home court. Wisconsin was never easy. I don't think it is much different than today and what Coach McCaffery is going through. The league is just tough this year. There are no easy win and I feel for him because I think he is doing a really good job and he's on the right track. I feel for Gary Barta too because I liked Todd Lickliter. I thought he was a really good man, a good guy, and an excellent basketball coach. I felt bad that it didn't work out for him and for Iowa. Fran is really well prepared, knows what he wants to do, and knows how to do it. The league is tough and you have to have talent. No matter how good of a coach you are, you have to have talent and you have to have depth. He has some good players at Iowa right now, but he needs more. I don't think there is any doubt about that in anyone's mind.
Q: In that game at Illinois you guys were down by more than 20 points. What were your thoughts about that game?
DAVIS: Well, I was probably thinking we have there before let's just go out and do it again. We had been down in other games, like the game against NC State, so we knew we could do. That is one thing about pressure defense, when you have that as part of your game that you can use for a part of or all of a 40 minute game, you know how to do it. You know that if you keep after it, you can do it. That Illinois team was a really good ballclub. If you look at their roster, you can remember just about every one of those names. Some nights the other team is just too talented and you aren't going to get it done. But, you can't worry about it. You just say, let's get after it and do the best we can and see where it takes it. I think we were still really gelling as a team and figuring out who would step up and I think that's where you really started to see Kevin Gamble start to emerge. You saw Brad Lohaus emerge and become a big time player and that was really the first time that was happening for both of them. I just thought that team started to get better thanks to those seniors along with that sophomore group. Then you had the juniors like Jeff Moe and Billy Jones and Al Lorenzen. Guys like Kent Hill and Michael Morgan were important players for us too. When you win a game on the road like that it really gives you a lot of confidence.
Q: You put up 100 points on a Bob Knight coached Indiana team. First time that has ever happened to a Bob Knight team at Indiana. Memories of that game?
DAVIS: Coach Knight's teams were so hard to score against because he was such a great teacher. He was a great motivator and recruiter as well. He was the total package. He was hard to score a lot of points on, so to put up so many points up against such a fine team was amazing. Of course, that was the year that Indiana won the national title.
Q: Did you ever get mad at Gary Williams for hanging the first loss of the year on that team?
DAVIS: All the time. (laugh) He had a real good ball club too. I mentioned all those great coaches and Gary ranks right up there with them. He had some really good talent on that team too. He knew what he had to do and he understood the pressure defense because he used it himself. He and I had been together for seven or eight years. I guess he was as well prepared as anyone to attack us. (laugh)
Q: Do you look at how Kevin Gamble and Brad Lohaus going on to have NBA careers a proud accomplishment on a personal level as a coach because they emerged as a seniors after their position switches.
DAVIS: Well, both guys had to pay their dues in the NBA. Kevin had a little longer path to get there playing in the minor leagues for a bit. Brad got a little better head start. I think being coachable really helped them. They are examples of being willing to learn and an NBA franchise would see what a good fit they would be on and off the court. They didn't have huge ego's that you would have to deal with. If they were the tenth man on the team, they would be happy with that and keep working hard. If they got to play a lot, great. I think that said a lot about those two guys as to the kind of careers that both of them had.
Q: How anxious are you to get together with this group as a unit for the first time and be honored for what that team accomplished?
DAVIS: I am glad to do it. It wasn't something that I campaigned for. Les Jepsen was really the guy that put this together. He didn't play a lot on that team. He had redshirted the year before I got there. He was an important part of the team because he was a good guy to practice against and he learned his craft. It took him five years of college, but by the time he was done he was a really good Big Ten center. He started the ball rolling with this and got Jeff Moe and Roy Marble involved with it. Pretty soon it took on a life of its own. I think Coach McCaffery and Gary Barta have a lot to do with this. Coach McCaffery is making a push to get the former players back involved with the program. They had sort of stepped away and haven't been as close to the program. I think when he hired Ryan Bowen it helped and Coach McCaffery recognizes that former players want to stay in touch with their program. I appreciate what they are doing and the players willingness to come back to do this. Many of these players have son's and daughter's coming up now, so when you get to that point as a parent, you are not only a former player, but you start thinking maybe I have a player here too and I would like for them to consider Iowa. Roy Marble is a great example, but you see some terrific young possible future Hawkeyes coming up. Now whether they come to Iowa is another thing, but it would certainly be nice to see.
Q: I'm going to guess that you wouldn't mind coaching a young guy like Roy Marble's son?
DAVIS: (laugh) Yeah, he's terrific. He has really gotten better and better. It's never about him out there. He plays a team game and he is all the things you want in a player. He makes the pass, he hits the open man, he steals the ball, and he rebounds. He does it all and does a little bit of everything. He's really developed his own style. It's not Roy's style. It's a totally different game, but he gets the job done. Roy was really unselfish as a player too. He would get the ball to the open man, rebound, and defend. He loved to compete and you see a lot of that in his son even though the style is different.