March 17, 1995 in Sports

To Davis, Ua Is University Of Adversity

Fred Mann Wichita (Kan.) Eagle

Ben Davis did not make it to Dayton for the NCAA Tournament with his Arizona basketball teammates.

Three years ago, Ben Davis did come to Dayton for the tournament with his Kansas teammates, but after that season he left Kansas to go to Florida, citing homesickness and a lack of playing time under coach Roy Williams.

So he went home, to Florida, where he got no playing time at all because left, having grown sick of being at home.

He went to Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College for a year and won the national juco championship. Then he went to Arizona to play for another national championship contender. Thursday, Arizona lost to Miami (Ohio) - without Big Ben. It was the only time Ben Davis hasn’t been able to go just about wherever he has wanted to go.

The NCAA had ruled him ineligible for the first three rounds of the tournament for accepting $3,453 worth of airplane tickets, meals and cash over the past seven years. The benefits came from a guy named Joe Spielman, a summer-league basketball coach in New York City.

Davis, a 6-foot-8, 240-pounder, has traveled a lot in his basketball career, and maybe now we know how he did it.

Arizona appealed to the NCAA to get Davis reinstated on Wednesday, arguing that Spielman is a family friend. The NCAA said Spielman is only a friend because of Davis’ basketball skills, making the gifts that he gave Davis impermissible.

Nevertheless, the NCAA gave Davis a break Wednesday. It originally had suspended him for the rest of this season and for the first three games of next season.

Davis has to repay the money to charity, although how he will do that is a mystery because the NCAA doesn’t let athletes have decent jobs, and he can’t borrow the money from Joe Spielman.

Davis is an affable, intelligent young man. Coaches from KU’s Williams to Arizona’s Lute Olson speak highly of him.

Just Wednesday, here in Dayton, Olson said, “He’s been as great a kid as I’ve had anything to do with. He deserves a good break somewhere along the line.”

So why do these things keep happening to Ben Davis? Why does his career read as if it was planned by AAA? Are his problems caused by fate, or flaws in his character?

Maybe some of both.

He was unsettled from the beginning. He grew up without a father. He played for three different high school teams in four years, starting when his Florida school district was re-zoned twice. So a life as an unguided nomad took shape early.

While he was at Florida, a newspaper in Gainesville reported that Davis repeatedly failed marijuana tests. Davis shrugged those reports off as mere rumors. Whatever, he seemed to be clean at Hutchinson and Arizona.

At Arizona, he sat out the first eight games of the season for not meeting NCAA academic progress rules. But the school says he is solid academically now.

“He said many times he’s found a home in Arizona and a family that cares about him,” Olson said. “That’s not to say he hasn’t found that at other places, but he is very comfortable in our environment.”

Davis, a junior, had intended to be an instant star at Arizona, but that, like just about everything else in his career, didn’t work out the way he’d planned, either. He started only seven games after sitting out the first eight this season. He averaged only 9.9 points and was third on team in rebounding. He had trouble fitting in on defense and couldn’t get into the flow on offense.

But he appeared to be coming into the tournament strong. He finished the regular season with three double-figure scoring games in a row. He’d finally grown comfortable as a “role player” for the Wildcats, figuring that next season would be his time to blossom.

When he was at Hutchinson last year, I asked Davis about his freaky career. “You got to go on,” he said. “You can’t go back. It’s not like a videotape. You can’t re-wind it. You can only go forward.”

He seems to have gone forward in some ways. But continuing to take benefits from a friend in violation of NCAA rules wasn’t a very bright thing to do. You can argue a kid doesn’t always know what the rules are, but if any player should have known about NCAA rules, you figure it would be Davis, considering everything he has been through.

And if he did know the rules, but accepted the gifts anyway, then it’s hard to have sympathy for him.

Davis’ teammate, Damon Stoudamire, was in hot water over an allegation that his father accepted an airline ticket from an agent. Stoudamire knew nothing about it, and the NCAA reinstated him after a one-game suspension. He is with the team and scored 18 points in Thursday’s loss.

“This whole situation has been a learning experience for me,” Stoudamire said Wednesday. “I’ve seen how it can be taken away from you so fast. It’s made me a lot hungrier.”

Davis needs to come out next season with the same attitude.

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