When Wendell Davis stepped onto Ashland University's campus in August 2013, he set out to help alter the course of the men's basketball program.
Now wrapping up his fifth and final year with the Eagles, Davis has solidified himself as one of the greatest to ever suit up for Ashland.
"My biggest thing when I came, and I told Coach (John) Ellenwood and Coach (Rob) Gardiner, that I wanted to be one of the best players to ever come through Ashland. I wanted to do some things that were never done," Davis said.
So let's lay it out.
In 2014-15, which was Davis' first year as a starter, the Eagles won a share of the GLIAC South title. In 2015-16, AU qualified for its first NCAA Tournament since 1991 and won a share of the GLIAC overall regular season title, earning the No. 2 seed in the GLIAC Tournament. This year, the Eagles are looking to host a game in the GLIAC Tournament and can still qualify for the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish.
"Those were all things that hadn't been done (for a long time), if ever," Davis said. "As a team, we were able to accomplish that as a group, so I feel good about that."
On the individual level, Davis ranks second on Ashland's all-time scoring list with 1,861 points and third on the school's rebounding list with 756. He is one of just two players to have three separate 500-point seasons. He was a preseason All-American and is a former all-region first team selection.
"That's what I set out to do, and to be honest, I didn't think I'd see a day that I would actually do everything that I set out," said Davis. "The biggest thing is winning a national championship and we all know how hard that is. I'm happy with where I'm at and what I've done. I wouldn't take back any of it."
It's a huge list of accomplishments for a player whose career may have ended when he tore his ACL in the offseason following his junior year.
"The first thought for me, when it happened, I knew something was very bad. I heard the pop," he said. "The next step was finding out exactly what it was. We didn't actually find out until two or three weeks later. Once I found out, the doctor told me, 'you tore your ACL.' At that point, I didn't cry immediately. My mom did. I went outside and I cried for maybe two minutes. Then I thought about it and it was like, 'ok, well, crying is not going to solve it. Can't pout, can't get mad. I just have to start getting ready.'"
And get ready he did. He dedicated himself to his rehab, grinding at it away from the court while his team played without him. The Eagles went on a tremendous run last season without Davis, winning seven straight games mid-season, smashing Findlay in the GLIAC Tournament semifinal and falling just a point short against top-seeded Ferris State in the school's first-ever conference title game.
All without Davis playing alongside.
"It's funny how things work out," said Davis. "It helped me and it helped some of the guys that I was playing with. Boo (Osborne) and Adrian (Cook) ended up being 1,000-point scorers with me not being on the floor. That was huge for those guys and they had huge senior seasons. It helped them out.
"For me, it gave me time, for the first time, to sit back and watch the game and enjoy the game without playing it. I hadn't been able to do that for years. I got to see it from a different viewpoint. It allowed me to see what the coaches wanted and needed. As a player, you don't always understand what your coach sees. I was able to sit back and think, 'when I get in this position next year, I'll know what to do.' It's helped me a lot this year, and physically I was able to push my body more than I ever could because I had so much time to make sure I was getting back into the physical shape I needed to be in."
From the bench, he could not only relish in the successes of his teammates, but learn from the coaching staff. Learn how to lead without being on the floor.
"He got to understand a lot from the coaching side, what we go through and what we're trying to do with our strategies," said AU head coach John Ellenwood. "He became more coachable as a result. Not that he wasn't before, but he became more of a communicator from coaching to players. He is that mediator. With him sitting out, he got to study what works and what doesn't. It made him more of a coach on the floor."
Wendell The Player
This year, he's unleashed the full potential of his talent. He has displayed his entire arsenal of skills, from driving and kicking, finding open teammates, scoring at the bucket, hitting threes, and most importantly, making his teammates better.
Davis draws an enormous amount of attention as a 6-foot-6 wing player and ball-handler – and one who can shoot with the best in the country. That unlocks everything the Eagles want to do offensively.
"We both have very similar games. His is more… it's just Wendell, you know?" said senior forward Marsalis Hamilton as he smiled while struggling to come up with the right word to describe his teammate's play. "He can do it from each level of the floor. He draws so much attention and when it gets kicked over to me I can just slash in there and make a play. We just balance well off each other."
In 2015-16, Davis led the Eagles in scoring, rebounding and assists. This season, he is second in the GLIAC in scoring, averaging better than 20 points per game, while also dishing out 3.5 assists and pulling down more than six rebounds.
"Wendell has been a very unselfish player," Ellenwood said. "He realizes he can score a lot more, but he's always been able to make his teammates better on the floor. People want to play with players like that."
Davis also thrives as a student of the game. He looks for the efficient shot first.
"A lot of plays that I make are either layups or threes," he said. "Those are the highest percentage shots. If you watch college basketball, or even the NBA, you see one of the best teams in the league, the Houston Rockets. Those guys are either shooting threes or getting wide-open layups. For me, that's what I've tried to transition to is getting layups and wide-open threes."
Wendell The Leader
On the court and off, Wendell is the team's sure-fire leader. The guy his teammates rally behind. He takes the younger players under his tutelage. Last summer, he and freshman Ryan Batte spent time at Davis' house before Batte even arrived on campus.
"Just talking about the future," Batte said. "We had a couple workouts down there, I played with him a little bit. We got some good run in and he gave me some wise words too."
"He's always been a leader, even when he was in high school before I knew him," said Ellenwood. "Everybody talked about how great of a person he was and how great of a leader he was. He's a competitor. He wants to win. He knows that he needs his teammates to win. He knows how to motivate his teammates."
The leadership role is one he had to grow into. But it started his sophomore year when then-senior and now assistant coach Brook Turson pulled Davis aside and explained that the younger player would need to step up.
"Being a sophomore and being told that by a senior, that's tough for a senior to do that," said Davis. "And then it's tough for me to take on that role, even though I was a leader in high school. In college it's totally different.
"The biggest thing I learned is you're not always right. You have to accept listening to others and seeing what their thoughts are. The biggest thing I tell my teammates is, 'if I'm not doing things right, tell me I'm not doing it right and correct me.' Then I'll feel better about my team. Some leaders you'll see aren't good at taking advice from teammates and that's the biggest thing I learned is to take advice. When you learn from each other that helps me and helps us as a group."
Wendell And Basketball
With just two regular season games remaining, Davis sees the end of his college career coming. But with the year he missed due to injury, he has the perspective to know that the lessons learned in basketball won't just stay with him on the court.
When asked about his favorite part of the game, Davis didn't mention knocking down a game-winning 3-pointer, driving by an opponent, or making a game-saving play. He turned philosophical.
"The process," he said. "Everybody is happy when you win, but everybody is not happy when you lose. I'm not saying you should be happy when you lose, but you learn from losing as much as you learn from winning. I enjoy those days when you do lose, you have to bounce back and you have to be better for the next game. That takes a lot more effort than when you're winning every day. When you lose you really find out who you are and the process of getting back to winning is what fuels me and that's what fuels Coach.
"It's like the process with the injury. I enjoyed that process because you've got to fight against something and become better because of it. When you lose, it forces you to become better and you have to figure out why. Picking the game apart is the most fun part for me."
When you tie all his skills together, Ellenwood sees the sky as Wendell's ceiling.
"He can do whatever he wants. I see him playing professional," said Ellenwood. "He could have an outstanding career as a professional. I don't know if he wants to do that forever, but he could do that into his 30s. He's got that style of game.
"I could see him being successful as a coach," added Ellenwood. "He's got that magnetic personality that draws people toward him that you need as a coach. He needs to be around people whatever he does past basketball, because he loves dealing with people every day. Whatever he does it has to be in a team situation, whether that's in business or that's in basketball. He's such a good team leader and positive influence on everybody around him."
And it's partly because of Wendell that the AU men's basketball program has never been in a better position.
"He'll leave a really big legacy behind," said Batte. "He's done a lot for this program, he's a winner. He's very, very competitive. The mentality he has is just something that I haven't seen and that's what this program needed."