Rasheen Davis will tell you, early in a conversation, that he is spoiled. He talks a good game, too.
Davis is quick to credit the people in his past who molded who he has become as a basketball coach–Rick Pitino, Chris Mack, Jamie Dixon, and Steve Massiello are among his coaching mentors–but he is uncomfortable singling out anyone in particular. Davis speaks fondly of high school coach Moe Hicks, but remains hesitant to single him out above Hicks’ college contemporaries.
Davis will tell you about the knee injury that ended his basketball-playing career and forced him “to see this game from a different perspective.” He humdrums his start in coaching, a spot at his alma mater St. Thomas Aquinas, offering up:
“Well, I graduated and coach (Dennis O’Donnell) asked if I would be interested in helping, and I said yes.”
There is a humble way in which Rasheen Davis speaks that lets you know he truly feels fortunate, and spoiled. It’s obvious there’s a lot going on between his ears, on a variety of subjects, and a small percentage makes it past his lips.
It’s never about Rasheen Davis, according to Rasheen Davis. It’s the impressive qualities of everyone else.
The irony is that the more you talk with Davis, the more you realize he is spoiling you.
Take a turning point in his life, one of those moments he doesn’t like to talk about. In fact, Davis never spoke of it until talking with the Zach Braziller of the New York Post last year.
“After that interview I got a bunch of emails and texts,” he says, “So I talk a little about it because I guess it helps people.”
Here’s how Braziller characters a brain tumor that almost took Davis’ young life:
He almost never made it to 21. Born with brain arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal connection between arteries and veins, Davis spent his childhood dealing with migraine headaches. His junior year at St. Thomas Aquinas College, he was drilled by a screen in practice, and the migraines returned. He had a seizure for the first time, his body shaking uncontrollably, and a fever that wouldn’t go away.
“I was just dying,” he said.
Eventually doctors found the problem: His brain was hemorrhaging, a type of stroke, and he needed surgery immediately or it could become fatal. The procedure was a success, and he has a large scar next to his left ear to prove it.
Those humble few words of guessing people are helped by his strength, resolve and upbeat personality are what frames Rasheen Davis. It’s that quiet riot, that hilarious seriousness, that spoils you.
“Every day is a good day. You have to view things that way,” he says with an emphasis on have. “I tend to be happy. I always say I’d rather be on this side of the dirt than the other side.”
That wit is another diffusion of Davis’ ability to coach the VCU players hard, and teach them the Xs and Os of a new attack this year while also imparting a toughness. The kids know Davis is on their side, but he coaches them to a high level.
“I don’t like to single past coaches out, but Steve (Masiello) always taught me that you have to motivate guys every day, and every guy is motivated differently,” says Davis. “We went from Louisville to Manhattan and Steve never treated Manhattan like a Honda. It was always like a Bentley. That’s the way to be. You have to aspire to be like a Testarossa, not a Ford Escort.”
Davis found himself coaching hard in an early practice. Freshman Gerron Scissum made a mistake, and when play was stopped and the mistake was pointed out, Scissum’s response was “my bad.”
And that’s when the Testarossa met the teacher and the wit.
Davis threw his hands in the air: “My bad? My bad? Do you know where they say ‘my bad?’ The NIT! I’ve never been to the NIT, and that’s not our goal. The NCAA doesn’t say my bad. They get it right!”
Davis’ message was on point.
“I was getting on a freshman, but if you look at the history of VCU, our long history of success, you have to treat it that way,” he explains. “So I’m not going to treat you like a freshman. I’m going to treat you like a senior. That’s the urgency you need. When the games start nobody is going to say you are only a freshman. I’m consistently trying to challenge the guys and make them better and more prepared.”
Will Wade and Davis got to know each other about five years ago, along about the time Melvin Johnson chose to come to VCU. It was instant friendship.
“We stayed in touch throughout the years and spent time together when recruiting in July,” says Wade. “I wanted someone who had the entire package – scouting, coaching, and recruiting – which is what Rasheen has.”
Though Davis is known in basketball circles as a top-flight recruiter, much of the new defense Wade has mentioned throughout the offseason is designed by Davis. The coaching staff will take those principles, tweak them to match the players’ skills and lineup variations, and then go play hard. There will be pressing, but Davis calls it “a different kind of havoc.”
Davis is obviously a big personality and a good coach, but that bigness interestingly seems to end once he leaves the gym. He prefers home life to the limelight and is increasingly uncomfortable talking about anything not related basketball.
It’s that humble manner of speech and the thought that is behind words you can tell he’s prefer not uttering. It isn’t that he is put off, nor is he cranky. It’s just never about him. Davis cares. Deeply cares. He clearly feels like life is a gift and he is going to live it the best way he knows how.
Away from the gym Davis prefers to read or watch movies. In fact, he calls himself a movie aficionado and a homebody. The favorite movie of the big, fun, gruff basketball coach from New York?
“You won’t believe me when I tell you,” he laughs.
You see, Davis and his wife spent a lot of time taking in Broadway musicals when they lived in New York City.
Rasheen Davis had the basketball world at his fingertips, coaching within earshot of Madison Square Garden. But in his free time, he chose to sit quietly in the audience with his wife, allowing others to shine on the big stage.