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Davis sets sights on playing in NBA

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Can shot-blocking maestro Jeral Davis reach the NBA in his late 20s?

It’s not impossible.

After all guard Pablo Prigioni is a 35-year-old Argentine rookie with the New York Knicks. That said, the Shimane Susanoo Magic center, who turns 29 on Sept. 17, probably has a short window of opportunity — the next two to three years — to reach his goal.

The skinny 216-cm, 100-kg big man said recently he would like to play in the NBA next season.

Davis, a Talladega State (Alabama) product, is the bj-league’s top shot blocker (3.6 per game). He’s on pace to be the leaguer leader for the third straight season, after averaging 3.2 blocks in 2010-11 for the then-expansion Magic and 3.8 a game in 2011-12.

In his time in Japan, Davis has had good durability, playing in all 50 games in his first season with Shimane and all 52 last season. His scoring average has increased from 10.0 to 10.7 to 14.2 in his three seasons playing for Shimane bench boss Zeljko Pavlicevic, who has guided the Magic to a 21-11 record through Sunday. The Chugoku-based squad is in second place in the Western Conference, trailing only the defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings (24-6).

Davis’ long arms, leaping ability and agility keep him active on defense as he alters or rejects shot after shot. On the other end of the floor, he can be a dominant threat in the post, as evidenced by his 27 points on 13-for-17 shooting on Oct. 20 against the Miyazaki Shining Suns. But his defensive presence in the paint is what sets him apart from ordinary big men the bj-league.

In recent interviews conducted by The Japan Times, league sources commented on Davis’ NBA aspirations.

“I don’t know about the will because I’m not around him every day, but he has the tools with his size, wing span, timing, and athletic ability to play at that level,” Gunma Crane Thunders coach Ryan Blackwell said of Davis. “The biggest question is would he be physically strong enough to compete at that level. I think teams should and would be interested in a player with his size and abilities. He should, if he already hasn’t, look into getting some tryouts/workouts.”

Davis has worked out for the Knicks in the past. He’s also played professionally in Lebanon and Mexico.

The encouraging sign: His overall game has progressed during his time with Shimane. Pavlicevic, former Japan national team head coach and longtime mentor in Europe, has won a pair of Euroleague titles in a distinguished coaching career.

When Pavlicevic speaks, Davis listens, and the Croatian bench boss believes Davis would benefit by having one more year working with him in Japan.

“I have large experience (preparing) players for the NBA,” Pavlicevic said.

That list includes Dino Radja, the late Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc.

Shiga Lakestars head coach Al Westover offered this perspective: “I think that Jeral has improved a lot in my time here in Japan. He definitely has the height and athleticism to play at the NBA level, though I feel at the moment that he’s too frail. He needs to work on his body, and add 10 kg of muscle to compete at a higher level. Whether he has to drive and will power to do this, I don’t know.”

A league insider who requested anonymity said, “In my opinion, he could get a possible look from an NBA Summer League team and then see from there. He is worth looking at if you need a shot blocker who can come off the bench for a few minutes a game, in a Summer League surrounding. Then it would be up to him to see if he can catch somebody’s eye.

“I would compare him to a Mikki Moore,” the inside added, referring to the undrafted player out of Nebraska who managed to suit up for 564 regular-season games for nine NBA teams from 1998 to 2012. “An undersized player (weight-wise) but there is something you like about him. They will like his athletic ability but of course say he is to small and skinny for the 4 spot, and too slow to defend a 3. They would send him to the D-League and see what he could do.

“In the right system and with the right coach, with all that space, he might have a chance. He will impress some scouts right away, but does he have the depth to his game to last long enough to grow on a guy, is the real question. Can he rebound at that level? Probably not, but only a tryout will answer that question, so it’s tough to say. He might need to get in some private workouts first to be able to get him in front of a decision maker. It’s a long process, but not impossible…”

Yokohama B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary believes it’s a long shot for Davis to join an NBA team.

“I remember going up against him last season and he played well against us,” Geary told The Japan Times on Tuesday evening. “He was a lot more skilled offensively than I was anticipating and I know he could affect shots on the defensive end.

“He definitely has NBA length, but I think he’s frame is probably too thin. Imagine him going against Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard, or even say Marcin Gortat or Andray Blatche. I feel he would be giving up too much in the weight/strength department to really compete or be effective in the post at that level.”

Time will tell.