Tom Archdeacon: Flyers’ Kyle Davis takes tattoo art to a new level

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

University of Dayton Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through his tattoos.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The University of Portland shooting guard sized up the Dayton Flyers defensive specialist who would guard him at times later that day and had just one question.

“Does it hurt?” Jazz Johnson asked Kyle Davis.

“I looked at him and said no,” recalled Davis, “But he just laughed and said, ‘You’re lyin’!’ ”

The Flyers’ 6-foot senior guard laughed as he remembered that encounter at the Wooden Legacy tournament over the Thanksgiving weekend in Anaheim, Calif. It happened the morning of the game as Davis was stepping out of the hotel elevator to go to breakfast and the Portland guard was about to step in.

“He asked me about my leg tattoos because he was thinking of getting one,” said Davis, who had to reiterate that no, they did not hurt: “I told him, ‘You got tattoos, as well. You should know that.’ ”

UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears. Davis has the Chicago Bull for his hometown, his jersey number 3, and his initials “K.D.” TY GREENLEES / STAFF
UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears. Davis has the Chicago Bull for his hometown, his jersey number 3, and his initials “K.D.” TY GREENLEES / STAFF

But the Pilots guard didn’t have adornment quite like Davis, who has some of college basketball’s most noticeable ink work. His tats cover both arms and each leg from the knee down.

“In this day and age — from my generation all the way under — tattoos have become a part of the culture of basketball,” said Archie Miller, the 38-year-old coach of the Flyers. “Most of the kids have some.

“With the paint he has on him, Kyle’s are a little more creative than most. Some people might get the wrong impression from that, but if you stripped all that paint off, he’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around.

“It’s a ‘don’t judge a book by the cover’ type thing. Anybody who’s ever been around him knows he’s one of the best teammates you could ever have. He’s also one of the toughest kids I’ve ever been around. And off the floor, you couldn’t be around a better guy.”

While all that is true, if you keep all that paint on and really study the cover — with its montage of masks, skulls, sports logos, inspirational words and even a full-blown, word-for-word Lord’s Prayer — you can understand the Kyle Davis book even better.

“All my tattoos have a little story behind them,” Davis said. “They kind of define me as a person. They tell the pains and struggles I went through and also the things that helped me get through all those things and become who I am today.

“Actually I find myself almost every day at some time just looking at my arms and seeing where I’m from and how far I’ve come.”

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One look at his lower right leg — where the tattoos include the Michael Jordan Jumpman image, a Bulls and a White Sox logo and soon a Cubs one, too — and you can guess he’s from Chicago.

But for a more specific identifier, go to the compass on his left forearm.

“It points to the south, representing the south side of Chicago,” Davis said.

And to zero in even more, go to the inside of his right forearm where he has the green street signs signifying the corner of 86th and Union.

“That’s where I grew up,” he said.

“I come from a city where people said ‘you won’t make it to see 21 or even 18.’ So getting that tattoo meant something to me.”

A trail of tragedy

UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears. A “Day of the Dead” tattoo represents people in his life that he has lost, Davis says. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears. A “Day of the Dead” tattoo represents people in his life that he has lost, Davis says. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Davis said when he was starting high school, his mom, Rhonda Davis, was against him getting tattoos.

“I resisted,” he said quietly. “I wanted one and went against her will.”

While his first tats were tame — his initials, KD, on the backs of his arms — he soon showed his depth and flair and the kind of courage that that Portland player couldn’t quite fathom. That’s when he had the Lord’s Prayer etched on his leg a year later.

“I used to read the Bible a lot when I was a freshman in high school,” he said. “I tried to read a scripture every night before I went to sleep. It was because my uncle was sick.

“The Scripture meant something to me because he used to do it. It uplifted my spirits and I hoped it would help him get stronger.”

As he advanced through high school, Davis made more and more of a name for himself as a basketball player, first at Hyde Park Academy and then, after transferring before his senior season, at Morgan Park, which he helped lead to an Illinois state title.

The basketball court became his safe haven as other people he knew were claimed by the violence in the city.

He lost a friend, Tyrone Lawson, who was shot and killed outside a high school game that had pitted Davis’ team against a Simeon Career Academy team that included Kendall Pollard, now his UD teammate.

Long before that, Davis said his great uncle was shot and killed by a robber outside the shoe store he owned. Along the way there have been other losses and that recently prompted him to get the haunting Day of the Dead image he has inked all along his upper right arm.

“I have relatives in my family who are Mexican and I did a little research and learned about the Day of the Dead in Mexico,” he said. “That’s what the portrait is about. It celebrates everyone in my life that I have lost.

“Even my teammate, Big Steve (McElvene). May he rest in peace.”

UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Hiding the sadness

Several UD players have tattoos, but quite a few, he said — including Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, Pollard, Ryan Mikesell, Kostas Antetokounmpo and Joey Gruden — do not.

Josh Cunningham, also from Chicago, has the city’s skyline and the words “Windy City” inked across his chest. And in a nod to his hometown, sophomore guard John Crosby has the Baltimore skyline on his chest.

Crosby’s piece — thanks to a Davis introduction — was done by the same Detroit tattoo artist who does all of Kyle’s work.

Davis said he has relatives in Detroit, which is how he first made the connection:

“He’s done some work for some of the (Detroit) Lions and some famous people around there, but he kind of stays out of the limelight.

“I use my creative mind and come up with some ideas and then he brings those images to life.”

One piece that stands out is on Davis’ left arm.

“It’s the Drama Faces — Laugh Now, Cry Later,” he said. “Basically, it just paints the other side of me outside of basketball.

“The friends I lost, the tough times, it hides that sadness with a smile on my face every day. You deal with it. Rather than moping around, you turn sadness into a positive thing.”

UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears including these drama faces Davis describes as “laugh now and cry later.” TY GREENLEES / STAFF
UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears including these drama faces Davis describes as “laugh now and cry later.” TY GREENLEES / STAFF

When you hear his explanations, you wish more people would quiz him like that Portland player did.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover — I was told that by my grandparents, but it still happens,” he said. “Through the years, I’ve experienced that even on the University of Dayton campus.

“Some people have been scared to approach me because of my tattoos. I believe they find them intimidating. But once they start talking to me, they realize: ‘Hey, he’s a cool person to be around.’ They see my tattoos don’t signify street things. They just tell the story of my life.”

Then again, some things can get lost in the translation. Take the person who didn’t get a close look at the word “Dedication” Davis has inked inside his left arm.

Davis shook his head: “He said ‘Delicious?’

“I said, ‘Delicious? Why would I have delicious on my arm? That doesn’t make any sense.’ ”

The Flyers’ ‘engine’

One of his most cherished tats is one of the simplest.

The word “Truly” is inked down the inside of his right arm. “Blessed” goes down his left.

Truly Blessed.

“I got it my sophomore year in high school and not long ago I changed up the font to make it look a little better, a little more professional,” he said.

“Truly Blessed means a lot to me.

“When you have people who hate on you and doubt your accomplishments and say ‘I don’t think you’re gonna be able to do this is life,’ this is about going out there and showing people every day and every night.

“’I’ve shown I can go to school and get good grades and be a great basketball player and go to college and now I’m going to get my degree next semester. It means a lot to me to show people I am truly blessed.

“I done had my ups and downs in life, but God always made a way for me and showed me the right path instead of the wrong.”

UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears. Michael Jordan’s “Jump Man” logo and the “The Sky is the Limit,” adorn his right calf. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
UD Flyers shooting guard Kyle Davis tells his life story through the tattoos he wears. Michael Jordan’s “Jump Man” logo and the “The Sky is the Limit,” adorn his right calf. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

While he’s well on the path to getting his degree in communication, he’s also turned himself into “the engine” of the Flyers, Miller said.

Last Tuesday night against Saint Joseph’s College, Davis scored a career-high 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor and added four steals, three rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot — in 27 minutes.

He had several gritty defensive plays, but the one that stood out was his length-of-the-court, full-sprint battle with Saint Joseph’s guard Eric Gillespie, as both tried to commandeer a loose ball.

Davis finally wrestled it away near the Flyers basket and, though off balance, put up what he admitted was “a crazy shot” that went in.

In the Flyers' 75-61 victory Saturday over an East Tennessee State team that came in 7-1, he held the Bucs' T.J. Cromer, was who averaging 19.1 points, to 1-for-11 shooting and four points. Meanwhile, he had six points, four assists three steals, three rebounds and a blocked shot.

“Kyle did an excellent job again setting the tone on their best player,” Miller said. “If you look at the last five games since Nebraska, he’s gotten better every game.

“He continues to be our engine. He gives us our energy. He’s playing as hard as he possibly can out there. He’s just a tough guy who’s really grown into our leader.”

Davis is one of the favorites of the Flyer Faithful, who have watched him grow up from a scrawny 155-pound freshman.

And now that he’s put on weight and muscle, Davis smiled and said he’s ready to tattoo his chest and back.

“I had to hit the weights first,” he laughed. “I’m gonna do a whole mural of Jesus on my chest and stomach and I’ll save my back for something more about my family.”

And speaking of family, he said his mother has come around on the ink.

“She’s never doubted any of my decisions in life,” he said. “She knows I’m a good kid and now she doesn’t have any problems with my tattoos.

“In fact, I’ve kind of inspired her. She came up to me and said, ‘I want to go with you and get a tattoo.’

“I was like, ‘Really?’

“And she said, ‘I want to get your name and your sister’s name on me.’ ”

That sounds pretty sweet.

Even delicious.

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