Originally created 03/14/97

Look beyond the dreadlocks to grasp Davis



KANSAS CITY - You know Devin Davis. Sure you do.

He's that guy who plays basketball for Miami of Ohio. He's that guy with the full beard and the funky hair, the dreadlocks. He's the guy with the cut-off sleeves on his undershirt. He's the one with the three gold teeth, right up front. Got stars on those teeth. And an exclamation point.

You know Devin Davis. Of course.

Surely you've seen the 6-foot-7 power forward flash across your television screen at some point in these past four years. Maybe you saw him lead the Redskins to that first-round upset of Arizona two NCAA tournaments ago. Maybe you saw him some other time.

How could you miss him? In the history of organized basketball, he might be the only guy with the audacity to take the court with Bob Marley's hair. Not even Dennis Rodman has tried that yet.

Davis uses a rubber band to tie his six-inch dreads into a ponytail when he plays, but he still leads with his hair. It bounces up and down. It sways from side to side. It diverts attention - regrettably - from the fine all-around game of Miami's No. 2 all-time scorer, its No. 3 all-time rebounder.

See, you know Devin Davis. No, wait, you don't know him at all.

You probably think he's a thug. You probably wouldn't trust him with your car keys at a valet lot. You probably think he should get with the program and clean himself up.

Davis understands. He gets this sort of reaction all the time.

First impressions aren't kind.

"People seeing me for the first time might say I'm a wise guy or a little hood," says the 6-foot-7 Davis, who leads his team against fourth-seeded Clemson this afternoon in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at Kemper Arena. "I don't take it personally. They're fans. It doesn't really bother me that much."

There's a cringe factor with Davis. He's grown used to it by now. After all, he's a product of Overtown, one of the most violent and downtrodden areas of Miami, Fla.

"That's just life," he says. "Everybody's always making their own perceptions without meeting you or knowing you. That's just humans. You can't control that."

He's had the dreads for close to seven years now. Got them as a sophomore at Miami Senior High.

"It was just the style," he says in a smooth, street-smart baritone. "Growing up, as a young kid, you like to stay with the style."

Coaches don't care much for style. They like conformity. That's how Davis ended up in Oxford, Ohio.

He drew interest from several colleges. Villanova came calling. So did George Washington and Boston College. But always there was this awkward pause toward the end of the spiel. Always there was a catch.

"And what," coaches would ask, "are you going to do with the hair?"

Keep it, Davis would tell them. Bye-bye, Steve Lappas. Take care, Mike Jarvis. So long, Jim O'Brien.

Only Herb Sendek, now at N.C. State, was willing to take Davis as is.

"He wanted to win," Davis says.

Miami has done that these past four years. The Redskins have won 84 games since Davis showed up. He says isn't through yet.

Davis doesn't just play for himself, see. He plays for three of his old buddies from back home - Jack, Frog and Yella. He first met them in elementary school. All three are gone, victims of senseless shootings.

Yella died when Davis was still in high school. Jack and Frog went down on the same day two years ago. A tattoo on Davis' forearm pays tribute: "To My Dead Homies."

Bet you didn't know that about Devin Davis.

"We spent a lot of time together," Davis says. "We began to love each other, like brothers. Growing up, our roads went different ways, but we always had the love for each other. You never forget your friends. You can't turn your back on people who have always been there for you."

Once you get past the hair, there's a lot to like about Devin Davis.