“Amari and Ta’Rae had gone in together and bought a flat screen for our bedroom.”
With a laugh, she quietly added, “It’s hooked up already and everything.”
And Sunday afternoon the family had something to watch when Amari unwrapped his biggest offering of the weekend.
Although the Phoenix lost both games to a fine Wright State team – falling 67-53 on Saturday and 90-77 on Sunday – Amari was like Santa Claus in sneakers.
The 6-foot-3 sophomore guard had a team-leading 13 points on Saturday and followed it up Sunday with a career-best 35 points.
Amari Davis and his family took a selfie holiday photo at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay’s team hotel this past weekend as the Phoenix – led by 6-foot-3 guard Davis, the former Trotwood Madison star – played Wright State in games Saturday and Sunday. Davis scored a career-high 35 points Sunday and had a team-high 13 points Saturday.
Pictured from left: Jaya (Amari’s niece), Ta’Rea (Amari’s sister), Lamar Sr. and Gerie (Amari’s parents) and Amari.
As Gerie put it: “It was a good game. He did what he was born to do. He attacked … and he scored.”
Although the Horizon League isn’t allowing fans at games now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, personnel from both teams who were there Sunday sounded almost fanlike in their assessment of Davis.
“He had a heck of a ballgame,” said Green Bay coach Wil Ryan. “He’s extremely talented…He was feeling it in the first half – I think he had 20 – and was getting downhill, was getting to the basket and he was finishing well.”
Wright State coach Scott Nagy, who employed four different defenders on Davis at different times, was just as complimentary: “When he has freedom out there, he’s a tremendous player….Once you let him get going, it almost doesn’t matter what you do.”
The most heartfelt praise came from Wright State guard Tanner Holden, who has known Davis since they were in middle school and ended up as AAU teammates on the All Ohio Red team: “It was definitely a good game for him. For me, I’ve seen that before. I’m proud of him and happy for him.”
No one though was happier than Amari’s parents, who are proud of him for several things he’s done:
**As a freshman, he immediately made an impact for the Phoenix. Averaging 15.9 points per game last season and shooting 51.4 percent from the floor (second best in the conference), he was named the Horizon League’s Freshman of the Year, made the All-Tournament team and set the all-time Green Bay scoring record for a freshman.
**After the season, when Green Bay fired head coach Linc Darner – who had believed in him and recruited him with far more fervor than area schools like WSU, Dayton and Miami – Amari stood firm on his commitment and didn’t transfer.
“Amari is not a walkaway type of guy when the challenges hit,” Gerie said. “He will give everything a fair chance to see how it goes.
“And we owe a lot to Coach Darner and his coaching staff because of the opportunity they gave our son. It helped him have a stellar, record-breaking year.”
And when Amari shines like that on the court, Lamar and Gerie are quietly warmed because the know he is making good on a promise to honor his late brother.
Playing for his brother
Lamar Davis Jr. – known as Boo since he was a toddler – was eight years older than Amari and a real physical specimen.
By age 14, he was 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds and already had gotten recruiting letters from Ohio State and Cleveland State.
As Trotwood coach Rocky Rockhold once told me: “He was a program changer once he got to the high school level.”
But Boo never made it onto a high school court. Six weeks before the start of the prep season – on Oct. 6, 2007 – he collapsed on the sideline at Wayne High School after playing an AAU game.
The coroner attributed his sudden death to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HVM), which is better known as an enlarged heart.
Amari idolized Boo and served as the ball boy on his brother’s team. After Boo died, he vowed to represent him on the court.
“Every time he touches the court, he plays with his brother in his mind,” Gerie said Sunday. “We always tell him: ‘He’s with you, play with his intensity.”
Amari did that at Trotwood where, as a senior, he averaged 30.1 points per game, led the Rams to the Division II state title and was named Ohio’s Division II Player of the Year.
Once at Green Bay, he made his presence felt, as well.
“I play for everyone I’ve lost, but it always kind of really lands on my brother because he never got a chance to play college basketball,” Amari said. “Every day I do go out and play for him.”
But their son’s adjustment off the college court required a bit of prompting, Gerie chuckled:
“When he was here, even on the coldest days, he would only wear a hoodie and never a hat. We told him, ‘When you get up there to Green Bay, you won’t be wearing no hoodie. You’re gonna need gloves. everything.’
“And now when he FaceTimes us from up there, he’s got a coat on and something on his head. And he told us yesterday, ‘The cold down here now has nothing on Green Bay cold.’”
‘I’d rather have 35 and a win’
If these were normal times, the past weekend would have been a homecoming gathering for Amari at the Nutter Center. With family and friends and folks tied to Trotwood Madison, his parents believe there would have been at least 50 people cheering him on from behind the Phoenix bench.
Instead, there was no one.
After Saturday’s game though, Amari’s family did visit briefly with him at the team hotel. They gave him his Christmas presents, recorded the moment with a holiday selfie and Gerie brought him plenty of the food he likes, including homemade pizza, Buffalo wings, chipotle wings, potato skins and egg rolls.
Green Bay guard Amari Davis moves to the hoop against Wright State guard Tanner Holden during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED
The visit lifted him and Sunday he had his career day.
“I want to say its’ special, but I’d rather have 35 and a win,” he said after the loss dropped the Phoenix to 0-8.
Asked if playing against Wright State especially inspired him, he gave a quick juke just like he does on the court: “Anytime I come to Wright State or we play anybody, I’m always giving it my best.”
Ryan said he didn’t know if the playing the Raiders especially triggered Amari:
“I don’t know what his mindset was. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, let’s go get ‘em. Wright State didn’t recruit you!’ He’s very mature and humble. He doesn’t boast or brag…That’s why I love coaching him.
“But I guess if he did get that in his mind that he wants to stick it to them, well, so be it. But it’s not something we ever talked about.”
Lamar thought his son may have wanted to “put in a little extra” this past weekend, but it might not have had anything to with Wright State. It might just be the fact that his family and friends were just 20 minutes or so away in Trotwood.
Like Gere said, “He’s adjusted very well to Green Bay, but, of course, there’s no place like home.”