Big Baby: I'm Glad I Stayed

LSU's man in the middle expects nothing less than a first-round selection

June 18, 2007

By Bryan Armen Graham



Bryan is a basketball editor for and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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In the 15 months since spiriting Louisiana State to the school's first Final Four appearance in two decades, Glen "Big Baby" Davis hasn't been able to go anywhere without being approached by thankful fans.


"They would tell us that last year was a great experience or that they'll never forget it or that it was one of the highlights of their life," Davis said in a phone interview Thursday while traveling to a workout with the Sacramento Kings. "Enjoying [the Final Four] was great, especially with the guys I had around me. I grew up playing with those guys."


That 2005-06 campaign crystallized the ebullient 6-foot-9 post man's place as one of the most celebrated freaks of nature in the history of college basketball. Listed at 310 pounds -- but tipping the scales at 326 -- the deceptively nimble and irresistibly charismatic Davis became the first player since Shaquille O'Neal to pace the SEC in scoring and rebounding while sparking his side's furious second-half run into the national spotlight.




But a loss to UCLA in the national semifinals exposed Big Baby's weaknesses, as Ben Howland's adroit game plan exploited the pivotman's questionable stamina and reduced Davis to a huffing and puffing non-factor. Despite his soaring draft stock, the Baton Rouge native elected to return for his junior season and recommitted himself from a training standpoint.


Improving his diet and adopting a rigorous training regimen, Davis shed close to 40 pounds from his doughy frame between April and July. With his renewed commitment and streamlined physique, the stage had been set for a standout junior year  -- but injuries and the general inability to recapture the previous season's unique team chemistry doomed the Tigers to a lackluster 17-15 overall mark and a place in the SEC West cellar.


Louisiana State had lost more games by the end of January than the entire previous season. Dropping nine of 10 contests during conference play extinguished the team's postseason hopes.


"Losing multiple games back to back was tough for us," Davis said. "We had to try and find another way to play."


While most pundits believe Big Baby should have capitalized on Louisiana State's run to the Final Four and entered last year's NBA draft -- like teammate Tyrus Thomas, who was taken with the fourth overall selection -- Davis has no regrets about returning for his junior year.


"I'm glad I stayed because I'm a better player, regardless of the success I had [in 2005-06]," Davis said. "If you put Glen Davis now on [the Final Four team], we'd have won the national championship. I'm in much better shape and, mentally, I can create more things for my teammates. I can just do a little bit more than last year.


"I just feel like a compete player, like I'm ready. And that was another reason I didn't put my name in: because I felt like I wasn't ready."


Like many high-profile players, Davis saw little to gain from the pre-draft camp in Orlando and elected to skip the event in favor of individual workouts for NBA teams.


"People know I can play. People saw me play in the Final Four -- they've seen me be successful and seen me lose also. It wasn't a problem for me getting noticed," Davis said. "I think the pre-draft camp is for guys to get noticed, guys from mid-major schools or guys who went to schools where they really didn't get a chance to play."


Davis presents an interesting case for professional talent evaluators. His strengths -- agility, ball-handling and mid-range shooting abilities uncommon for a player of his considerable size -- have become apparent enough during his three-year collegiate career. But his unique skill set is a double-edged sword: critics say Davis plays too much like a guard for the NBA, resorting to the dribble and employing a finesse game instead of using his brawn to bang with the big boys. And even though Davis has slimmed down, most pro teams still harbor doubts about his conditioning and whether his 289-pound frame can meet the demands of an 82-game schedule.


The failures of previous big-bodied but undersized post men -- busts like Robert Traylor and Michael Sweetney -- don't help his case.


Davis, who would be "shocked" if not selected in the first round, has undergone individual workouts with a number of teams, including Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Houston. Big Baby admits the pressure of an individual workout can be a nerve-wracking event, but trusts in his experience and preparation.


"You're kind of nervous," Davis concedes, "but every moment has prepared me for this moment."


Big Baby has remained in contact with Thomas as his former teammate has carved out a reserve role with the Chicago Bulls. As the draft process has pressed forward, Thomas has given Davis advice to help alleviate the pressures.


"He just tells me, "Just don't worry about what's going on right now. You have no control over anything. Just play your game, do what you're supposed to do, your time will come and you'll be given a chance to prove what you can do.'"