The Astonishing Rise of Terence Davis

Mar 5, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis (0) drives the ball against the Golden State Warriors during the second quarter at Chase Center.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Terence Davis’ emergence to the basketball world has been one of the most unexpected surprises this NBA season. He has gone from a player who was known by few, to one of the best rookies in the league. This sudden jump isn’t by chance, either. Terence has always had the odds stacked against him. He’s continued to carry that chip on his shoulder, and it’s only led to success.

Stats courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com/

High School Days

Basketball wasn’t always Davis’ strong suit. He was known for his stellar play in high school as a wide receiver. The Mississippi native had over 20 scholarship offers for football, compared to only 5 offers for basketball. Everyone believed he would pursue football and eventually be in the NFL. However, Terence wanted to follow his dream instead, and that was playing basketball.

When asked about his decision of choosing basketball over football in an interview with Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet,  Davis said, “When I committed to college, I chose basketball. I wanted to prove everyone who thought that I chose the wrong sport wrong.” Davis elected to stay close to home, and attended Ole Miss. With very little assurance that he’ll be given play time as a freshman, all Terence wanted to do was become a better basketball player, and prove all his doubters wrong. Now he’s a valuable contributor to the defending NBA champions, and has already proved his point. But he isn’t content with just leaving it at that.

“I’m always out to prove, that’s just how I’m wired”, Davis said when asked about the breakout in his performance with the Raptors. We can trace this mindset of thinking back to his freshman year at Ole Miss.

Coming Into His Own in College

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 16: Ole Miss Rebels guard Terence Davis (3) sets up the offense during the men's college basketball game between the Butler Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels on November 16, 2018, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN.
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During Terence’s freshman season, he didn’t see that much action on the court. He played a mere 6.6 minutes a game, due to an already stacked lineup of guards at Ole Miss. The voices of the doubters started to become louder, as his lack of productivity fueled the fire. Davis averaged 1.8 points, 0.3 assists, and 0.9 rebounds per game in that freshman season. Making it seem that he made the wrong choice of choosing basketball. This pushed Davis to work harder in the offseason, and that work paid off.

Terence Davis had one of the biggest improvement seasons in all of college basketball. In his sophomore year he averaged 14.9 points, 1.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. Terence continued this level of play throughout his remaining years in college. In his junior season he averaged 13.8 points, 2.1 assists, and 6.3 rebounds per game. In his senior season he averaged 15.2 points, 3.5 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game. He was named Second-team All-SEC, and was able to lead Ole Miss to their first NCAA tournament appearance of his career.

Davis Bet on Himself

Despite performing at such a high level in college, NBA teams were still not sold on Davis. Things would change after Terence accepted an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational, a seniors-only showcase for NBA scouts. Terence played exceptionally well, and was quickly invited to the G League Elite Camp after a spot was open due to an injury. After another strong outing, Terence was one of 11 players from that camp who were invited to the NBA Draft Combine. 

Davis played two days worth of scrimmages and finally started to put NBA teams on notice. His explosive athleticism, along with his physical features at his size, intrigued NBA teams. Officially being on NBA radars, Terence Davis received interest from some teams to be selected in the second round on a two-way contract. A contract that would result in very little pay, and an unguaranteed opportunity of being on an NBA roster. 

Terence elected to decline these offers, and eventually went undrafted. It was a calculated move by his camp, and they chose to bet on Terence’s skills to get a fully guaranteed contract. It was now up to Davis to put the NBA world on notice in the NBA summer league.

After joining the Denver Nuggets summer league team, it only took a single game for Terence to get a call. It was from the Toronto Raptors offering a guaranteed contract for one year, with a team option in the second.

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, Terence was able to prove all his doubters wrong. Every person that doubted him throughout his life. All the blood, sweat, and tears finally paid off. He was officially an NBA player.

 Instant Impact on the Main Stage

Arguably the greatest thing that could’ve happened to Terence Davis was having Nick Nurse as his mentor. When asked about Davis during the preseason, Nurse said, “I think the first thing is he’s got a really explosive game … so that right there is gonna be able to let you survive in an NBA game.” Nurse acknowledged Davis’ abilities, but was much more focused on grooming him into an NBA player.

 “Can we get him making really good decisions on offence?” Nurse said. “I thought he did tonight, all but maybe one or two. There was one shot he turned down, wide open from three and dribbled it into a contested tough two, which we’ll have to teach him a little bit. But he knew it right away when he did it.” After winning the 2019 NBA Championship, a new culture was born within the Raptors organization. One of the main enforcers of this culture was Nick Nurse. A culture in which he drilled into Terence. 

It wasn’t that far into the season until Terence had the opportunity to perform on the big stage. In only the 8th game of the season. Kyle Lowry suffered a small fracture in his left thumb, putting him on the sideline for 11 games. Although at the time it was a major blow for the Raptors, this was the best thing that could’ve happened for Terence Davis. 

Seizing the Opportunity

The very next game was against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Centre. The Raptors were without Serge Ibaka, and Kyle Lowry. Toronto had all the odds stacked against them against a fully healthy Lakers steered by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But a strong bench performance led by Terence Davis was the spearhead in an unexpected upset. After that performance NBA fans were talking about the rookie up in Canada. 

During the 11 games Lowry was injured, Davis averaged 10.8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists in 21.1 minutes of action. Even with Lowry back in the lineup, Davis received consistent playing time, and became a vital part of the Raptors’ success. Putting up stellar performances of 20 points against the Brooklyn Nets, 23 points against the Charlotte Hornets, and a career high 31 points against the Chicago Bulls throughout the season.

Terence proved the doubters wrong, but still has more to prove. He has to prove that he isn’t just good enough to be an NBA player, that he can also be an elite player in this league. From what we’ve seen so far from Terence, it would be foolish to bet against him.