Golfing with Detroit Mercy and burning questions about the Titans answered by Mike Davis

Photo courtesy of Detroit Mercy Athletics

When I was asked if I wanted to join a foursome for the Detroit Titan’s golf outing, my first thought was; I don’t golf…in fact, I suck. But when I was told I would be with the coaches and have access to all the players, I was in. Is that great media ethics? I am not sure, but at the end of the day, I am a fan who blogs about the team he loves.

I had the absolute pleasure of spending the day with assistant coach Donnie Marsh; he is a defensive guru and a pretty good golfer and a really easy guy to talk to.  College basketball has changed. A lot in the last few years, with scheduling buy games being way less money due to COVID budget cuts, to the transfer portal, to NIL, this is not the same college basketball landscape it was two years ago, let alone the last time the Titans made the tournament in 2012. By the second hole, I was asking Marsh all kinds of questions debunking the myths Titan fans post on the message board.

The first one was, “are you guys planning on leaving after this year?” The speculation has been Mike Davis and staff would get out of town when Antoine’s eligibility is over; I don’t see that happening when I asked Marsh if they were going to leave, he gave me a funny look and said: “I hope not. You have to control what you can control.”

The idea that the staff refuses to recruit local kids is also a myth; I talked with multiple members of the staff about a handful of different players; they are aware of the who’s who of local basketball, and contrary to popular belief, they do go to games to watch players in person.  If there is a local kid in the portal who could help the team, I assure you they contacted them. All kinds of feelers are put out in the age of the portal and texting.

I can assure everyone the Detroit Mercy staff left no stone unturned, and there are more players left to announce and the possibility of a late surprise. Sometimes you get a local kid who wants to come home, sometimes, the coaches don’t get a good feel for the player and move on. The transfer portal and recruiting are much like the player and basketball program dating.

In talking to another men’s basketball staffer, there are a handful of reasons a player transfers first, they went to a major program, and it did not work out, so they are moving down to a smaller conference. The second reason is when you get a guy like Damian Chong Qui from Purdue Fort Wayne, who lit it up in a low major conference, the NEC with Mount Saint Mary’s. Then you have players who enter because they may have had a bad year and what to see if anyone is interested and they want to be courted. With the contact period over and a dead period in effect as of Saturday, there are still tons of guys in the portal, and a lot of them won’t find homes before the start of the fall term, which leaves them with possibly the opportunity to be second semester eligible if they can find a spot to land.

A lot of people have asked why it took so long for UDM to announce a player. If you did not come from a school with an articulation agreement with Detroit Mercy, it takes time for admissions and the registrar’s office to take transcripts and see what credits apply to UDM if you are not a grad transfer. If a player has attended more than one school, this process takes longer. As a current student and alumni, Detroit Mercy takes forever to get a lot of anything done, the late announcements are not the basketball program’s fault everything has to be in place, and all the paperwork is signed and submitted before a player can be announced.

Why isn’t the schedule out? It’s complicated; UDM is not the only mid-major with a scheduling issue or a full roster. The schedule will be filled out, and it most likely won’t look like Cleveland State’s with a ton of non-D1 games. There will be winnable non-conference road games; I won’t be shocked if the Titans beat a Power 5 team on the road this year; they are going to have a handful of opportunities. I believe they are going to get a few non-conference home games, and a few of them will be intriguing to fans. We are not talking ranked teams, but not your typical MAC schools.

The idea that the team that has been assembled is a bunch of cast-offs and guys that don’t want to be there is also not the vibe I got. It was hot out Friday, and I had multiple younger alumni tell me how personable most of the team was to them as they had players stationed at various holes on the golf course.  The idea the staff does not work hard or does not care, I don’t buy that at all. These guys want to win; Davis loves the history of the program.

When I sat down with Davis, the first thing I asked about was about Twan, as Antoine is called around the program, entering the portal. The Elder Davis said as a dad and a coach, he got it; Antoine has not gotten to the NCAA tournament in his first four years, he had every right to go look.

When asked what the hardest thing about coaching Antoine is? Mike Davis said, “The most frustrating thing was he did not gain any weight until this year (Antoine is up 15 pounds) and balancing the dad coach role. “everyone thinks it’s Daddy ball” just because his son is on the team, he’s getting to do whatever he wants. It has been a negative in recruiting just as much as it has been a positive to get players to come to Detroit.

Mike Davis assured me they aren’t playing “Daddy ball” That is not the case. At every program he has won at that has had a leading scorer that happens to be a score-first guard, the guys that have played well with Antoine have left early because, in the case of Bul Kuol and Madut Akec, they got money to play they played so well, and they forwent their eligibility one year in Kuol’s case and two years, in Akec’s case. Matt Johnson also earned an overseas contract. Coach was able to back up that playing with Antoine does analytically make players better in some cases, 17-20 points analytically.

If Antoine was playing “Daddy ball,” why is he so close be being the Titan’s all-time assist leader? (He is within 80 assists of this record) and he’s in the 98th percentile for assists in the country last season.  The perception that Detroit plays “Daddy ball” does not even make sense to Mike Davis, because if they were truly playing that way, Antoine would be playing over players who are more deserving and skilled than him.

When it comes to finding guys in the portal, they look for guys with a skill set that can play off Antoine’s. The defenses that the Titans run into are geared towards Antoine when they find guys like Kuol, Johnson and Akec they can hit their open shots because the defense is not geared towards them; they find success with secondary scoring. A handful of guys can play those roles on the roster this year. The biggest thing coach was looking for in the portal were “guys who what to be here at the University of Detroit, they not doing us a favor by being here, that they had a sense of pride, and that they understand it is a grind school, we don’t have the bells and whistles other schools do.”

When asked what they need to do to be in the top 4, Mike Davis straight-up said the COVID cancellations prevented them from the top 4 last year and possibly the year before.  Last season the five canceled home games last season was the main reason.  The games that were canceled were against mostly teams at the bottom of the conference, and the Titans only lost one home contest last season. The injuries and bad luck have been a three-year problem.

The breakout candidate like Johnson, Kuol, and Akec for this year is one that Titan fans know of but was never healthy, and that is Jordan Phillips. He has got a game that’s very much like Kuol’s; he’s a stretch 3/4 that can hit shots from outside he can also handle the ball a bit. I will save my quotes on individual players from coach until my season preview, but from watching practice, this does not look like a team that will finish outside the top 4 in the conference. There is a reason so many of these players were ranked so highly in high school.

This year’s team also seems like they have some sandpaper and grit to them they seem closer than the teams the previous two years. They also have a leader; surprisingly, his last name is not Davis. From spending the time, I did with the team, there is no hope lost down at the hall, in fact, this team might have the grit it takes to get to an NCAA tournament. I will also say this there has been so much complaining about the staff Mike Davis has assembled it’s a good mix of veteran coaches with a few younger guys who can relate well to the players. From being at practice, everyone was receptive to coaching, and the vibe in the gym was really positive. I know it’s summer workouts, but it would not shock me if this team surprises people come November.

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