The “preseason MVP” is a curio of college sports that can be lumped in with your other amusing impossibilities: jumbo shrimp, boxing ring and political correctness.
Birthed by the summer magazines spooning out content and daring debate, the concept was quickly and happily adopted by the schools and conferences themselves, which do some in-house polling and then put their imprimatur on the results. Why they think they should be in the prediction business is another matter.
But, really, how can you have a most valuable anything of something that hasn’t occurred yet? Is this the Euro step along the space-time continuum?
This is a topic for now – the college basketball postseason – because Eastern Washington is surfing the high of the NCAA Tournament wave, prepping for a Saturday date against Kansas. And a chewy morsel of the Eagles’ story is the tale of Jacob Davison, preseason MVP of the Big Sky Conference.
But not the season MVP.
And not on the all-conference team, or even honored with mention.
Actually, not in the starting lineup the last half of the season.
In the Big Sky championship game that sent the Eagles into the heart of March Madness, Davison logged less than 8 minutes off the bench.
And yet he’s as fulfilled and upbeat as the Eagle Scout he is.
“Honestly, it’s OK – more than OK,” Davison said. “As a senior, I just wanted to help our team to succeed and do well and look at where we are.”
Back in Bracketville for the first time since 2015. Back after two long fly balls died on the warning track against Montana in the 2018 and 2019 Big Sky finals. Back after COVID-19 kept the Eagles from even taking another swing last March.
Plus somehow, “Unus pro omnibus” lives on in college athletics, despite alarms being sounded about the NCAA Transfer Portal and the silly fiction being dished about the lack of resolve in, ahem, young people today. Yes, just over the mountains, the Grizzlies had three players bail at various points of the season when the going got inconvenient, and there was much tut-tutting by coach and fan base alike.
Meanwhile, the No. 10 scorer in Eastern history found his role often reduced to cameos, but tried to make the most of every moment.
“He’s handled it great,” EWU coach Shantay Legans insisted. “He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around.”
That the Eagles still soared with production from a talent like Davison nearly halved speaks to what Legans has going in Cheney.
Now, the preseason MVP thing is always a guess, generally based on deep research like scoring averages and, well, scoring averages. Hey, that holds true after the season, too. In 2020, the 6-foot-4 Davison led EWU with an 18.4 average, including a 41-point outburst against Northern Arizona. And when the summer magazine guy called Legans for his advice, he didn’t hesitate to endorse Davison.
Eastern’s always ambitious November schedule (Arizona, Oregon) and all the pandemic curveballs made for a rugged start to this season. When the Eagles came out of a COVID pause and gave up 99 points to Southern Utah – Davison had 31 in that game – and lost again five days later, Legans decided changes were necessary. Michael Meadows and Jacob Groves went into the starting lineup; Davison came out.
“You’re trying to win games and you just can’t sugarcoat it,” Legans said. “We’ve changed up things a few times. Jack Perry’s been in and out of the starting lineup. I think both Jacob and Jack understand what we’re trying to do.”
Davison’s minutes dropped from about 31 to 21 a game, but soon there were other complications. The first was an extended case of the flu that “kept me out of practice for 10 days,” he said. He missed two games, barely played in three more before breaking out with 18 points against Idaho State.
But the Eagles had also reeled off seven consecutive wins. As Crash Davis told us, you don’t mess with a streak.
“It was difficult in the beginning,” Davison admitted. “I knew I could score and help us win. Once I realized what was going on and how my role was changing, the transition was actually easier than expected. You can still be a leader and still help your team.”
It’s funny how things work out. The Eags still had the Sky MVP, but it was Tanner Groves, the bearded post man who could make a case as one of the nation’s most improved players. Meadows’ increased minutes has added another dimension. And now there’s a talent capable of 20 points – or 30 or 40 – off the bench.
“I tell guys in recruiting: If you’re playing better than the guy ahead of you, you deserve to play,” Legans said. “If you want to be an individual player, you should golf or swim or run the 100 meters. In basketball, you have to earn everything you get. I think players come to understand that and believe in it. I think our guys do. But sometimes it hurts – players and coaches.”
And MVPs, whenever they’re anointed.
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