Archdeacon: Davis’ life journey leads him back home

The Davis Family: (left to right) Gerie (mom), Amari, Jaya (niece), TaRae (Amari’s sister and Jaya’s mom); Lamar Davis Sr. (dad). CONTRIBUTED

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The Davis Family: (left to right) Gerie (mom), Amari, Jaya (niece), TaRae (Amari’s sister and Jaya’s mom); Lamar Davis Sr. (dad). CONTRIBUTED

Trotwood-Madison grad set to begin first season at Wright State

FAIRBORN – If you think Wright State’s defense tried to smother him when he was playing for Horizon League rival Green Bay, you ought to see the way his 4-year-old niece wraps him up.

The basketball journey of Amari Davis has – in the words of his mom, Gerie – “come full circle.”

The lithe, 6-foot-2 guard is back home after playing two seasons at Green Bay and then last year at Missouri. Combining both stops, the Trotwood-Madison grad has played 90 college games, started 64 of them and already scored 1,244 points.

He’s now come to WSU via the transfer portal and the Raiders can surely use him. They lost their two top scorers from last season’s NCAA Tournament team. Tanner Holden left for Ohio State and Grant Basile went to Virginia Tech.

While he’ll be an integral part of the new-look Raiders, Davis opted to spend this summer at his parents’ home in Trotwood rather than live on campus. Through the first three years of his college odyssey, he rarely got home and his parents saw him play only once at Missouri and never up in Green Bay.

He missed so much – birthdays, some holidays, get-togethers with friends and relatives – so he wanted to immerse himself in family life for a couple of months and that has included moving back into his old bedroom.

“It’s been kind of weird waking up now and being in my old bedroom,” he admitted.

In many ways it still looks the same as when he left. The jerseys he wore in AAU ball are still mounted on the wall, as are a pair of uniform tops that belonged to his late brother, Lamar Jr., who everyone knew as Boo.

But now the room is also home to a lot of toys that belong to his 4-year-old niece, Jaya.

She’s the daughter of his sister Ta’Rae, who works each day until 6 p.m., which means the little girl stays at the home of her grandparents, Gerie and Lamar Sr., until her mom picks her up.

“When Jaya gets home from Day Care, she’s all over me,” Amari laughed. “If I’m walking somewhere, she’s following me. If I sit down, she’s pulling me this way and that to play.”

Gerie watches the scene unfold every day:

“They play-argue. She tackles him and likes to rassle him. She thinks she’s roughing him up. And she’ll actually wrap her legs around his leg and sit on his foot and he’ll swing her. She loves it.

“She loves on him and he loves on her.

“She calls him Uncle Book – just like a book you’d read. She came up with that on her own.”

Gerie said at first she wasn’t sure where the name came from, but now she thinks it goes back to her oldest boy, Boo.

He was a basketball prodigy who collapsed and died after an open gym session at Wayne High in 2007. Doctors later discovered he had an enlarged heart. He was just 14 and his name carries a special reverence among his family and friends now.

Amari, who was eight years younger than Boo, was known as Moo.

Boo and Moo.

In the beginning this was all a bit confusing for little Jaya.

She couldn’t say Moo. It would always come out Boo.

“We’d say, ‘No, that was Amari’s older brother. He was Boo,’” Gerie said. “She kept trying and finally one day it came out as Book.

“And so Amari became Uncle Book. At first he hated it, but after a while he accepted it and now he embraces it.”

He’s Uncle Book.

And, just as the old adage goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

‘It’s a real dream come true’

By the time he was 14, Boo was 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds. He was a standout on his local AAU team and already had received recruiting letters from Ohio State and Cleveland State.

Amari idolized his older brother. “He went to all the practices and tried to do all the things the big boys did,” Gerie said.

When Boo died, there was a real void in the family.

Amari put his brother’s jerseys on his bedroom wall and, when he turned 18, his mother allowed him to get a sizeable tattoo on his left arm that read “RIP Boo.”

He was smaller than Boo and initially people called him “Little Boo.” But soon his hoops reputation began to grow and as a senior at Trotwood, he averaged 30.1 points per game and led the team to the Division II state title.

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And yet he was bypassed by many area colleges, including Wright State, a decision head coach Scott Nagy now admits was a mistake

It was thanks to then Wayne coach Travis Trice – who knew the Davis family well – that Amari got an offer from Green Bay. Linc Darner, then the head coach of the Phoenix, had been Trice’s teammate at Purdue.

The Davis family initially drove Amari to Green Bay for the start of school, but after that – with the second year stymied by COVID restrictions – never made it back for a home game.

They did see him when Green Bay played Horizon League rivals IUPUI in Indianapolis, Cleveland State and especially Wright State.

“I always took those (WSU) games a little more personal,” Davis admitted. “I was a Dayton kid playing against a Dayton school. I always felt I had something to prove.”

Although he had felt the snub and was far from home, he persevered as he would throughout his college career.

“I saw how hard my mom and dad worked and tried to do the same,” he said.

Lamar said the lessons also came from DeMarco Bradley, Amari’s All Ohio Red AAU coach: “He always taught the guys ‘Hard work pays off.’ And Amari is living proof of that right now.

“He’s not the biggest kid, but he’s worked hard and good things have happened because of it.”

His first year at Green Bay, Amari averaged 15.9 points, shot 51.4 percent from the field (second best in the conference) and was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year.

Although Darner was fired after that 17-16 season, Amari remained committed to Green Bay and new coach Wil Ryan.

That season – in the last game he played at the Nutter Center (December 27, 2020) – he had a career outing against Wright State, making 14 of 21 field goal attempts and finishing with 35 points, even as the Raiders tried four different defenders on him.

The Phoenix still lost the game, as they did most that season. They finished the year 8-17 and several players transferred.

Davis opted to play at Missouri in the Southeastern Conference, started 13 of 32 games and averaged 9.1 points, fourth best on the team. But the Tigers ended up 12-21 and coach Counzo Martin was fired.

New head coach Dennis Gates came in from Cleveland State and Amari said their visions for his future were different and they came to the mutual agreement his needs would best be met elsewhere.

And so that meant he would be playing for his fourth head coach in four years.

Back home, no one believed in him more than his mom.

“Amari is a natural fighter,” Gerie said. “Nothing has come easy for him. Everything he’s gotten, he’s had to fight for it. He’s been underestimated and overlooked. But he learned to adapt and he always stayed determined.

“I tell people, ‘Don’t sleep on him. He may look smaller, but he plays like he’s 6-foot-10. Every step of the way, he’s amazes people.’”

The Wright State coaches pursued him vigorously this time.

In turn, Amari sought a place where he would be wanted, would get considerable playing time, have a coaching situation that was stable and be part of a winning program.

Wright State checked all those boxes…and more.

During his travels, he had gotten 937, the area code of Dayton, inked on his arm.

“It was a way to stay connected to home,” he said.

Now, finally, his long distance career is over.

“For the first time ever, he’ll be able to look up and see his family, his friends and his community in the stands,” Gerie said.

“It’s a blessing,” Lamar added “It’s something we’ve been waiting for. It’s a real dream come true.”

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Green Bay guard Amari Davis goes up to score between Wright State’s Tim Finke and Loudon Love during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

Green Bay guard Amari Davis goes up to score between Wright State’s Tim Finke and Loudon Love during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

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Green Bay guard Amari Davis goes up to score between Wright State’s Tim Finke and Loudon Love during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

‘He’s made us proud’

Since Amari’s been home, Gerie admits she’s spoiled him.

She has to be at work at her factory job in Brookville every morning by 6:30, but before she goes she makes him a breakfast he can put in the microwave when he wakes up.

“I don’t mind,” she said. “He’s a good kid and he’s made us proud, He’s worth it.”

With a laugh, she fessed up and amended that last thought:

“Me and my husband were just talking. I said, ‘I love having him here, but he’s gotta go! He’s costing us all kinds of money.’ It seems like all I’m doing is buying groceries.”

In a month he’ll head to campus, where he’ll room with Andy Neff and C.J. Wilbourn.

He thinks the transition will be easy.

“I’ve gone through coaching changes and losing seasons and changing schools and I’ve always just tried to remember the lessons I got from home,” he said. “I’ve worked hard and tried to keep a level head and just remember who I was.”

He’s Uncle Book.

And he’s proof you don’t judge a book by its cover.

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