Davis, Smart develop close bond

Akshay Mirchandani

A skinny, 6-foot-2-inches guard tells Shaka Smart to go shake North Carolina head coach Roy Williams’ hand in December in the aftermath of a signature win. Sometimes he tells him to remember his own messages. 

In January against Vanderbilt, Smart threw up his hands when the same guy launched a three and enthusiastically got in his face when it inevitably swished in. 

But this isn’t a rapport between the head coach and a senior, junior or even sophomore. No, this comes from a freshman who oozes confidence and walks with his chest up — Eric Davis Jr.

“That’s just who I am,” Eric said. “Even off the court, I’m a confident guy. I like to walk around with my chest up. Just show everyone that you’re confident. I think everyone should do that.”

Smart has preached confidence throughout the year and has discussed how this isn’t a naturally confident bunch. But as the Longhorns head into their first postseason of Smart’s tenure, Davis has become a microcosm of the attitude Smart craves. 

“He’s always telling me what to do — it’s comical to me,” Smart said. “I love the kid. He’s a guy you’d like to coach because he comes back to me and our staff with our own message sometimes.”

Eric’s conviction was instilled long before he enjoyed his first balmy Austin winter, in the stark cold of Saginaw, Michigan. 

His uncle, Tony Davis, coached Eric through middle school and high school and helped lay the foundation for Eric’s attitude.

“Everything in our household was a competition thing as far as washing dishes or folding clothes — it was always a ‘I could do it best,’” Tony said. “And that’s something I tried to implement with him and my son — that whatever you do, do it to the best of your abilities.”

It worked. Eric has become a key cog to Texas’ rotation and has thrived under Smart with his shooting and energy.

“You always need that one guy who can give you that kind of energy,” Eric said. “I just happen to be that guy.”

But he almost didn’t become that guy — at least not in Austin. Eric committed to Texas when Rick Barnes was at the helm. After Smart was hired, he immediately spoke with Eric. 

What he said was a surprise. Look at other schools, Smart said. Smart wanted Eric in Austin but didn’t want him to reaffirm his commitment without exploring other options. 

Tony, who played collegiate ball at the University of Minnesota, helped guide Eric through the process. They tried to think of the best coaches and fits, but once they sat down with Smart, Tony knew it was a perfect marriage. 

“He believed in Rick Barnes, but with coach Smart it was almost a hit-it-off perfect thing,” Tony said. “It was phenomenal that he got the job, and it was almost like this was the perfect fit for you.”

The relationship between the two has grown stronger. Eric has responded with a few big showings, and Smart fuels his demeanor. 

“I look at him as a coach, as a father-figure, a teammate even though he’s not on the floor,” Eric said. “I look to him for answers. We’re really close.”

Even with the highlights, Eric has had some clunkers, hampering his usually-poised demeanor. But Smart is working on making him more even-keel. 

“All these things are new to your body and your mind — you just got to try to hang on and try and follow the process,” Smart said. “Eric’s done a nice job with that. The best is yet to come.”

Still, Eric claims to be the most confident freshman and always feels good letting the ball fly. 

“Every shot I shoot feels good,” Eric said. “Every shot. No matter what.”

No surprise from the freshman guard who walks with his chest up.