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Nick King’s success at MTSU is a lesson on perfect fit

At his third school in four years, King’s found an ability to shine, and a place to tie up his whirlwind journey.

Photo courtesy of Middle Tennessee Athletic Department

Sixteen years ago, Kermit Davis was hired as Middle Tennessee’s basketball coach. Murfreesboro made for his ninth coaching stop in 18 years and his biggest task at the time was none other than helping the Raiders win more games than they lost. (They had just come off a 14-15 season).

Sixteen years ago, Nick King was just seven. But even at that young age, King aspired to play basketball at his hometown school: Memphis. And ten years later, a four-star rated King that made that dream a reality by choosing the Tigers over Tennessee, Texas and an interested but forgettable Kermit Davis, who frequented some of King’s games at Memphis East High School.

“It’s every Memphis’ kid’s dream to play for Memphis,” King said. “I just committed on the spot.”

Davis never thought he’d have a chance at King but put in the extra effort anyway after King decided to transfer from Memphis. He’d had a rough two years for the Tigers, only averaging 5.9 points per game during his career there.

“After Memphis we tried [but] I still think he had his eyes on Power Five,” Davis said of King’s decision to transfer to Alabama.

Time under Avery Johnson’s watch in Tuscaloosa didn’t fare much better as King suffered a lung infection, which forced him to miss the majority of the season. King says he simply wanted a fresh start and somewhere to “do what he knew.”

And then he thought of Kermit Davis. In the past three years, Davis built the Blue Raiders into one of the best mid-majors in the country. Not only had Middle Tennessee made it the tournament two straight years, they had advanced to the Round of 32 both years, beating Michigan State and then Minnesota.

Even better, Davis had a track record of establishing “hybrid four” players who are sometimes in the mold of Draymond Green: bigs that are versatile and can score. The list of players Davis has helped develop include Iowa State transfer LaRon Dendy, Reggie Upshaw and Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams.

“There’s no question that guys watch how we play and the freedom they get at that spot.” Davis said.

Ultimately, King was sold on MTSU because of one thing: consistency. Kermit Davis consistently made him feel cared about; they were the first school to meet with King after declaring his intent to transfer from both Memphis and then Alabama.

“Coach Davis always had confidence in me and knew me for a long time,” King said. “I knew he was going to let me come in, play my game and do everything I could to help my team.”

And that’s exactly what King has done. In fact, King has been one of the best players in the nation. King is 22nd in the nation in scoring with 21.2 points per game (and keep in mind, his previous high was just 7.2 points per game) and has five double-doubles.

“Sometimes you worry about a fifth year graduate transfer [...] is he really coming in to really impact winning?” Davis said. “King wanted to play on a winning team.”

Well, just how good is King? He’s shooting 50% from the field and as a result of his prolific scoring, the Blue Raiders are 16-5 and 8-1 in conference. They’ve beaten some high quality teams in FGCU, Murray State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and only lost to Auburn by six and Miami by three. And King isn’t at all surprised that the Blue Raiders have overthrown some members of the SEC elite.

“If you have a good team, you have a good team no matter the conference,” King said. “Going into [the Vanderbilt, Ole Miss] games, I thought we were better than those teams.”

The biggest takeaway of the King-Davis marriage is that fit is everything. Sixteen years later, Davis is beyond happy in Murfreesboro because of what he calls a “stability of culture.”

And King himself says that if he did his recruiting process over again, he wouldn’t judge a school by its name, but rather it’s opportunity for him.

“Wherever you are, it’s gotta be your Kentucky, your North Carolina,” Davis said. “You gotta sell the positive things that go along with your program.”