Basketball (M)

Men's Basketball: Garland Davis Loved To Rebound

by Mike London, The Salisbury Post,


Study Catawba basketball star Garland Davis' career, and the number that jumps out is 1,692.  That's how many rebounds Davis secured in three and a half seasons from 1966-70.  Putting that number in perspective, Catawba has competed since 1926, and only four Indians have pulled down as many as 1,000.

Three of the four most prolific rebounding seasons in Catawba history were posted by Davis.  He played his first three seasons with Dwight Durante, Catawba's greatest scorer, but he routinely turned in 20-20 outings.

Davis stood 6-foot-4, an inch less than his listed height, but he could put his elbows in the rim on dunks.  He also had powerful hands, perfect timing and unmatched desire.  Davis could score (1,592 points), but it's fitting he had more rebounds than points.  Rebounding was his thing.

"I'd watch Bill Russell battle Wilt Chamberlain, and I thought Russell was by far the better player," Davis said.  "Russell was team-oriented, played defense, rebounded.  Watching him, I learned if you go after the ball, the points will come.

"When you're a rebounder, you've got the job nobody wants.  But I loved to rebound."

Davis' start in basketball was humble.  A rusty rim and a chipped backboard nailed to a pine tree in his yard.  "It was soaking wet out there after it rained, but I was shooting day and night," Davis said.  "In the winter, my hands would be freezing and caked with mud, but I'd be out there.  I was driven to be a basketball player."

He sat the bench two years at West Badin, an all-black school prior to integration in Stanly County.  His junior year, he started.  "There was so much basketball tradition there," Davis said.  "It was a small school, but we'd play teams like West Charlotte.  If you made the team at West Badin, you could play."

Davis moved over to North Stanly his senior year and led the Comets on a long playoff run.  N.C. State inquired about Davis becoming the school's first African-American player.  St. John's and Villanova were interested.  But the recruiting battle came down to Western Carolina and Catawba. 

Catawba already had a North Stanly player, Johnny Harwood, so it had a little edge.  "But I was still leaning toward Western when I went to see Catawba play them," Davis said.  "Western had Henry Logan, and I watched him and Dwight go back and forth.  I was amazed at Dwight, that someone his size (5-8) could do the things he did.  I knew I wanted to be part of that."

Catawba coach Sam Moir drove Davis home after his visit.  Davis' high school coach had given him three words of advice -- "Don't sign anything" -- but Davis couldn't say no to Moir.  "I remember Coach, my parents and me sitting at our kitchen table," Davis said.  "Coach being the salesman that he is, I signed."

Not long after that, Moir was the only smiling college coach in the Greensboro Coliseum.  Davis was the first black to play for the West in the 1966 East-West All-Star Game, and he was MVP.

Davis didn't start right away as a freshman.  He came off Moir's bench in routs of Milligan and Campbell.  He was a reserve again in the first real test against North Carolina A&T in Greensboro's Gate City Classic.  When he got in against A&T, he scored 27 points and broke the school record with 25 rebounds.  Catawba lost, but a star was born.

"I remember the disappointment of not starting that game," Davis said with a hearty laugh.  "Needless to say, I started after that."

A week later, Davis broke his own record, hauling down 27 boards against Presbyterian.  Davis had a great freshman year, an All-Carolinas Conference sophomore year and an all-world junior year in which he averaged nearly 20 points and 20 rebounds.

Durante and Lawrence Bullock were Catawba's first black players in 1965-66, and Davis joined them the following season.  "It was a learning experience for the school and us, although things went well at Catawba," Davis said.  "But there could be a lot of racism on the road.  At Newberry and Wofford, they had fans like Cameron Crazies.

"They'd stand under the goal and holler, 'Dog meat!' at us, and it was at a time when the police were using hoses and dogs to intimidate black people.  You developed thick skin.  You played even harder."

By Davis' junior year, he had built himself up to a powerful 215 pounds.  After two games, he had 50 points and 53 rebounds.  Davis shot 11-for-12 from the field in a 90-86 win over Lenoir-Rhyne.

In February, Catawba beat High Point at the North Rowan gym in what may have been Davis' greatest game.  He had 23 points and broke the school rebounding record again.  He had 31 against the nation's fourth-ranked team.
Davis' senior year everything fell apart.  Basketball and school were secondary to family considerations.  "I had a son," he explained.  "I lost my concentration, and my weight swelled to 270.  Ideally, I should have asked for a redshirt year, but I played."

He was averaging 13 points and 12 rebounds -- good, but not Garland Davis -- when he lost eligibility.  "I always had that drive, except that last year when it really counted," Davis said.  "I had the ability to go further than I did in basketball, but I just lost track."

He attended camp with the ABA Carolina Cougars.  He survived the early cuts, but he realized he wasn't in good enough shape to make the team.  They asked him to return the next year.  He didn't follow up.

The cheering stopped then, but Davis has turned in a very full life off the court.  He's experienced a multitude of careers, including time with the Davidson County Community Action program, AT&T, Western Electric and lots of social work with troubled youth.  Now 58, he lives in Welcome and works in Concord.

Davis met his wife at Catawba and has two children and two grandchildren.  Davis wasn't inducted into the Catawba Sports Hall of Fame until 1995.  He declined invitations for years, still feeling sadness over his senior season.

Moir made a personal visit to ask him to reconsider, and at the urging of his own family, Davis returned to the Catawba family.  "My family convinced me," said Davis, "that it wasn't something they wanted to give me.  It was an honor that I had earned."

One number -- 1,692 -- says it all.

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August 24

Volleyball vs. UNC Pembroke 11 a.m.

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