FAIRBORN – The homecoming felt good and it was painful.
The engaged crowd at the Nutter Center on Wednesday night for Wright State’s season opener came to see how the new-look Raiders would play against a formidable foe that had been a big get for the WSU schedule makers: The Davidson Wildcats, the defending Atlantic 10 regular season champs and an NCAA Tournament team.
Many of the 3,784 fans also were there to see the debut of one of Trotwood’s favorite sons – Amari Davis – finally in a WSU uniform after his college basketball odyssey had taken him to Green Bay for two seasons and last year to Missouri in the Southeastern Conference.
In those three years, he had played 90 college games, started 64 and scored 1,244 points, including 35 the last time he had played in the Nutter Center – a Dec. 27, 2019 game with Green Bay.
“It meant a lot just to play in front of friends and family back here in Dayton,” he admitted after Wednesday’s 101-97 double overtime loss. “My parents were here. So was my sister and my niece, some cousins, uncles, aunties, my grandfather, some old teammates and teachers. Just a lot of people still showing me love.
“It felt like high school all over again, to be honest.”
Such personal connection drew special concern too when, 90 seconds into the first overtime, Davis missed a driving layup, wobbled and quickly grabbed his right calf before finally limping to the bench as a replacement was sent in.
“At first when he went down I was like, ‘Oh no! It’s his ankle” said his dad, Lamar Davis Sr., who was sitting in Section 204 with several family members.
Amari’s mom, Gerie, worried, too: “He’s been nursing a little injury with his Achilles – it’s still tender – and I thought it was that.”
Davis – who had played 39 of the first 41 ½ minutes – knew it was a cramp and so did trainer LaShaunta’ Jones when she met him on the sideline.
It was a homecoming game for her, as well. A 2003 WSU grad, she’d worked at Central State for over 16 years as a trainer, adjunct professor and senior women’s administrator. Then, after a short stint at Dayton Public Schools, she returned to WSU in September.
She immediately saw the quivering knot in Davis’s calf and had him lie on the court at the end of the bench. With a grimace, he then raised his right leg up to her and she went to work.
“I saw it moving and put a thumb right on it and pushed down to calm the spasm,” Jones said. “I did a deep tissue massage and as he did a little stretch, I added pressure.”
She had him drink Gatorlyte, a rapid rehydration drink filled with electrolytes. Finally, she worked the cramp out and, 92 seconds later on the game clock, Davis returned to the court.
Midway through the second overtime, it appeared Jones and Davis might go down as the Raiders’ saviors.
With Davidson leading by four, the 6-foot-2 Davis got the ball on the wing and drove straight at the Wildcats 6-10 David Skogman, scored, was fouled and made the free throw, too.
Suddenly, WSU trailed by just one, 96-95.
But after that, Davidson’s dead-eye guard Foster Loyer, a transfer from Michigan State, scored five more points to cap a 38-point night and seal the Wildcats’ victory.
The night was even more painful because Wright State had led by 21 points late in the first half.
Loyer, who had just seven points in the first 20 minutes, added 31 – including five three pointers – after the break.
Wright State, meanwhile, became too one dimensional.
Senior point guard Trey Calvin had carried the Raiders much of the way – he would end the night with a career-high 37 points – but down the stretch WSU went to him too often. And the Wildcats adjusted their defense appropriately.
A veteran like Davis, with his ability to drive, would have been a good first option some of those times. As it was, he finished with 17 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. He had three assists and just one turnover.
“We leaned on Trey too much in the second half,” head coach Scott Nagy said afterward. “We got stagnant. As the game tightened up, we tightened up. I tried to tell them: ‘Hey, man, it doesn’t have to be just Trey (all the time.)’”
Davis believes that eventually will come as the season progresses: “We’re still getting used to each other. Tonight, though was a big step for all of us.”
Although he starred at Trotwood-Madison – where he averaged 31 points a game as a senior, led the Rams to the state title and was named the Ohio’s Division II Player of the Year – Davis was bypassed by local colleges and ended up at Wisconsin Green Bay, where he had a stellar two-year career before he transferred to Missouri last season.
With him playing far from home, Gerie and Lamar – both of whom work -- never got to Green Bay for a game and only saw one game at Missouri
They did see one of Green Bay’s games at the Nutter Center, but COVID curtailed any crowds two seasons ago.
The separation, while difficult, had an upside too, Gerie said:
“As a mother you always want your kid to be close to home,” she said. “But I think when he was able to venture out and do something different – when he was able to get out from under my umbrella – it helped him to develop into the person that he is today. And the ball player he is, too.
“And even though we didn’t get to his games, we were watching (on ESPN+) and cheering him on. And he’d call us right after the games or FaceTime and we saw him.”
Even though he flourished when he was gone, Davis did all he could to stay connected back here.
When he’d turned 18, his mother finally allowed him to get a big tattoo on his left arm honoring his late brother Boo, who had been a basketball prodigy and hero to the younger Amari.
But in 2007, when he was just 14, Boo – who was 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds and already had drawn interest from Ohio State – died suddenly from an undetected enlarge heart episode during an open gym session at Wayne High.
Later – as he ventured farther away – Amari added another ink reminder of home. He had “937,” the local area code, tattooed on his arm.
After a coaching change at Missouri following last season, he entered the transfer portal and came to Wright State.
Rather than move to campus, he lived at home over the summer and made up for some missed family time.
Now living with two other players on campus, he returned to Trotwood the day before the Davidson game to get a haircut and to stop by home for a meal.
“He likes my homemade hamburgers, so I told him I’d make him some cheeseburgers and he was happy about that” Gerie said with a laugh. “I made him some extras so he could take them along back to campus, too.”
‘A dang good basketball game’
After the game, as he studied the box score, Nagy was especially pleased when he took in Davis’s stat line:
“He took good shots – he’s always been a high-percentage shooter – and 13 rebounds!
“I’ve been after him and after him and after him in practice to rebound because he has such a good nose for the ball. To see him get 13 rebounds, I’m really proud of him.
“When Trey is going like that – because he took so many shots (33) – it can be a little hard for anybody else to get going.
“It’s great to see what Amari did tonight – 13 rebounds, 17 points – that’s a dang good basketball game. And for that to be his first game at Wright State, he should feel really good about it.”
After the game, Davis visited the training room and then went out into the Nutter Center, where his mom and dad, his sister Ta’Rea and her four-year-old daughter Jaya – who flat out loves Amari – and his uncle Stacy Williams and Stacy Jr. waited for him.
It was a post-game embrace like few others in Amari’s college career. After a bit of laughter and shared warmth, they all hugged and parted ways.
His parents planned to stop and get something to eat on their way back to Trotwood.
But on this night of homecoming that was both painful and good, Amari headed back to his apartment.
His calf was still hurting, but he also knew he still had some of Mom’s cheeseburgers in the refrigerator.