Chris Davis is coaching one of those high school basketball teams that coaches love to coach.
The Maize Eagles have won 19 games with man-to-man defense that grinds opponents to a halt. They’ve put the hammer down in blowouts and tapped the experience of six seniors to handle a checklist of items that produce victories in close games.
Except when they didn’t.
In late January, Maize’s boys were outrebounded 36-17 and missed nine free throws in a 52-48 semifinal loss to East in the Dodge City Tournament of Champions. For Davis, who sports a booming voice that reveals his presence from way down the hall, it wasn’t acceptable.
“It’s not easy to go into a locker room and tear into somebody,” the 52-year-old Davis said. “We got on them hard. It was a wake-up call for us that we needed to start taking care of the little things.”
Proof that the message was received will be on display Thursday at Koch Arena, when Maize (19-3) faces Olathe East (18-4) in the second of four Class 6A boys quarterfinal games.
Davis is in his second season as Maize’s coach after serving as an Eagles assistant the previous year to Mike Darrah. The Eagles earned their first trip to state since 2010 by rallying in the fourth quarter for a 49-42 victory over Hutchinson in Saturday’s sub-state championship.
Maize is the second school Davis has taken to state. Led by former New Mexico guard Javin Tindall, Davis coached South to the 6A tournament in 2000 during the second of his eight seasons with the Titans.
“You get a group like this every 10 or 15 years,” said Davis, referring to senior starters Jacob Horsch, Caleb Wilcox, Kavan Jobe and Aaron Shaw, and reserves Connor Eleeson and Austin Binder. “I feel like my job is to not screw them up and just stay out of their way.
“They take accountability, they care and they pay unbelievable attention to detail.”
But Davis, son of the late National Baseball Congress World Series director Larry Davis, fosters a productive environment. His sideline demeanor is an emotional blend of unwavering intensity and occasional humor. Off the court, Davis’ conversations flow easily and he is a pied piper for all things Maize on social media.
“It’s always something new with him,” said Shaw, who led Maize with 18 points in the victory that secured the state berth. “He’s a great character to be around. He’s always full of energy, and it rubs off on us.”
For some, that description applies to Friends men’s coach Dale Faber. Davis was an assistant to Faber at Bishop Carroll for three seasons in the 1990s in between head coaching stops at Anderson County and Kapaun Mount Carmel, his alma mater.
“Coach Faber has been a great influence on me,” Davis said. “He helped shape me a little bit and taught me a lot of things, especially in teaching kids to play the game the right way.
“I think it’s important that a team knows what you expect from them – things like if you lose the ball, you hand it to the official and hustle to the other end. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”
Those philosophical seeds were also sown when Davis was a reserve player at Kapaun for coach Bill Carter during the City League’s gloriest of glory years. The Crusaders, who featured star 7-foot-1 center Greg Dreiling, defeated Bishop Miege, Newton and Emporia to win the 5A tournament in 1980, Davis’ senior year.
“Bill Carter just knew how to treat kids,” Davis said. “Here’s a guy that won back-to-back state championships, and I’m sure being a dumb kid, I thought he lacked a little knowledge. Then 20 years or more down the road, you realize that maybe the old coach was right.”
Now, Davis will try to help his group of seniors and their teammates enjoy a similar experience. Since an 82-78 double-overtime loss at home to Derby, Maize has won seven in a row, surrendering an average of 39 points.
And about those little things like free-throw shooting? The Eagles hit 23 of 29 in the sub-state final.
“Coach definitely let us know that if we wanted to far in sub-state and at state, we had to come up clutch,” Shaw said, recalling Davis’ words after the loss to East. “He wanted us to get mentally tough at the end of the game.
“We were upset because of the outcome of the game, and we might have felt like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ But you look back and it was something we needed to hear and something he needed to say.”