Texas Southern head coach Mike Davis is not afraid of a battle. You would think that after his team’s 1-11 start last year against a loaded non-conference schedule -- featuring losses to Syracuse, Baylor and Mississippi State -- that the Tigers would have folded up shop early last year.
But although his team got off to a rough start, it righted the ship against its SWAC conference foes, going 16-2 and ending within one game of the NCAA tournament.
You would think after faltering out of the blocks to start, that perhaps this year Davis would consider a different strategy moving forward for the Tigers. Not so.
Once again, Davis has his Tigers pitted against a formidable list of non-conference opponents to start 2016-17, including road games against Arizona, Louisville, Baylor, Cincinnati and TCU among others.
"I’m trying to build a team that has no relax time," Davis said. "My whole mindset is to go and play as many teams as we can on the road and never play a home game in non-conference."
He feels that having his players compete in those hostile environments would help reap some long-term benefits for his players, not to mention the checks that pour in from playing so many guarantees.
"I want our guys to really understand how hard we have to play to be a good team," he said.
The Texas Southern head coach is perhaps most recognized for his tenure at Indiana (2000-06), where he succeeded Bobby Knight and led the Hoosiers to the NCAA national championship game in 2002. Davis followed that with a successful stint as the head coach at UAB (2006-12), where he led the Blazers to a 122-72 record, including four straight 20-plus win seasons and a Conference USA Coach of the Year nod in 2011.
However, he was surprisingly fired at the end of the 2012 season for what school officials called "poor ticket sales and attendance." Davis then landed at Texas Southern, where he has led the school to a 76-57 record. He was given a five-year contract extension at the end of 2015, following two straight trips the NCAA tournament.
Davis looks back on his time at Indiana fondly and said, "I look it as a being the best opportunity of my life."
But he isn’t blind to his the peculiarity of his career path.
"That never should have been my first job," he said. "I’m kind of doing things backwards going from Indiana to UAB to Texas Southern, when most people would’ve done it the other way around."
One would think that after many years of ups and downs on the coaching carousel, that it may have perhaps jaded him to the politics that the profession can present. However, Davis remains optimistic about his current position, saying his passion for coaching has never been stronger than it is now.
He also spoke about the possibilities of achieving a lifetime goal that Texas Southern has to offer him.
"I want to do something special here," he said. "I want to be the first black school to go to the Final Four."
Texas Southern University has a deep-rooted history for African-American students in Texas since its inception in 1927. The school was once called the Texas State University for Negroes, until changing its name to Texas Southern in 1951.
The Tigers should be in the mix for the SWAC title and a berth in the NCAA tournament once again, and will be led by sophomore forward Derrick Griffin -- reigning SWAC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, first-team All-SWAC member and honorable mention AP All-American.
The two-sport star was also second-team all-SWAC as a wide receiver for the football team, and led the conference with 11 touchdown catches. Griffin will rejoin the basketball team in late November at the end of football season.
Davis expects two of his incoming transfers to be major contributors to the lineup after sitting out last year, including 6-4 guard Zach Lofton who spent time at Minnesota and Illinois State where he averaged 11.3 points per game as a sophomore. Dulani Robinson is a 5-9 guard who transferred from Pacific where he played in 31 games in 2014-15.
Davis said his squad will be one of the best teams he's coached, and saying they're ready for "big time basketball." Whether that means a SWAC championship, or even more, remains to be seen.