Josh Davis is used to proving people wrong.
Davis has scratched and clawed his way to earning a key bench role for the NC State men's basketball team. The journey to reach that point hasn't been easy, but he has never himself to question his abilities.
The 6-foot-7, 205-pound small forward grew up dreaming of playing at NC State. He lived about seven minutes away and attended Raleigh Athens Drive High. The proximity to the Wolfpack was his biggest asset in achieving his goal of one day playing for the red and white.
Davis was the opposite of the entitled high school star. He didn't get invited to the local showcase events or take part in the GlaxoSmithKline Invitational. Davis was a solid role player for the NC Gaters traveling team, which featured only one other sure-fire Division I player, which was current Virginia Commonwealth signee Reco McCarter, a senior small forward from Goldsboro (N.C.) Wayne Country Day.
Davis didn't have hype and attention on what college he was going to. He was a rarity in the Internet recruiting era.
"My whole life, just growing up, I've been overlooked and under the radar," Davis said. "I just say to myself, 'I'm going to work as hard as I can. I'm going to work harder than the other guy.' I just want to prove people wrong."
Davis did his best when he could, but the only major tournament the Gaters played in was the 2008 Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions. He averaged 13.4 points per game, but college coaches weren't allowed on the road per NCAA rules during the Memorial Day weekend tournament. Few recruiting gurus watched him either, or were noticing the players from the Atlanta Celtics, Dallas Mustangs and Beach Ball Select, who were the three teams the Gaters faced, going 1-2.
"That was probably one of the biggest tournaments that I played in, and I was real excited," Davis said. "I just tried my hardest to get my name out. I was for the most part under the radar that whole summer."
Davis definitely produced with his high school team. Davis helped Athens Drive go 22-6 his senior season before losing in the first round of the tournament. He averaged just over 25 points and 10 rebounds per game, but he remained an unheralded and unranked player by Rivals.com. He patiently waited out the season, watching peers from his conference such as Middle Creek shooting guard Garrius Adams sign with Miami, and Panther Creek shooting guard Earnest Ross ink with Auburn. Ironically, he has already played Ross Nov. 22, which the Wolfpack won 60-58, and he'll play Adams and Miami Feb. 27 in Coral Gables, Fla. He just patiently waited until NC State would come after him.
"I never gave up on it [the dream] because I always thought they would come through," Davis said. "I just kept it [the faith]. I never lost it.
"[Seeing Adams and Ross sign] made me want to play even harder. I felt like I could play at the same level they could."
Davis needed some breaks, and he created his own luck. Davis attended the NC State elite camp in June 2008, and found himself matched up against future teammate Lorenzo Brown of Roswell, Ga. Brown was eventually ranked the No. 37 player in the country by Rivals.com.
"He didn't score," Davis said simply. "I didn't know him at the time, but I just guarded him. It was crazy. People told me he was the top shooting guard in the nation. I was like, 'Wow.' [NCSU assistant] Coach [Monte] Towe brings that up a lot."
The other big showcase opportunity was the North Carolina/South Carolina All-Star Basketball Classic at Socastee High in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Davis made the most of it and scored 15 points and pulled down a Classic record 10 rebounds in a 106-82 victory for North Carolina March 21.
The big break came when redshirt juniors Brandon Costner, a power forward, and shooting guard Trevor Ferguson both left the program March 23. Davis was offered by NC State coach Sidney Lowe on March 22, and officially became the fourth member of the Wolfpack's Class of 2009 a day later.
"He wasn't unknown because we knew about him, but we were looking at getting some other things done," Lowe said. "We saw he was still there. The thing that was impressive about Josh is that he wanted to come to NC State. That speaks volumes.
"He scored more in high school. You can see his ability to defend, his hustle and he has a great attitude. We were lucky."
NCSU was his first and only offer, and Davis isn't sure where he'd be right now if it didn't happen. Wolfpack fans weren't sure what to make of the signing, but the beautiful thing about college is once you arrive, you make your own breaks. Davis was hungry to make a difference. The scholarship was important to him and his family.
"All of my motivation comes from my mother [Veronica Davis]," Davis said. "I just want to support her. It hasn't been easy for her the last few years. She got laid off, but she is doing all right now, but isn't working right now. She needed that [scholarship]."
Davis first served notice in the preseason practices and the closed scrimmage against Richmond that he was ready to make an impact.
When the season kicked off for real, Davis was admittedly nervous. Sometimes when the adrenaline overflows, he has trouble hanging on to rebounds or passes, but then his hustling nature usually allows him to go and retrieve his misses or drops.
"Coach Lowe just said to work hard because that is my talent," Davis said. "
Davis has carved out a nice niche backing up fellow freshman Scott Wood at small forward.
Davis' brightest moment in his young career was helping NC State upset Marquette 77-73 on Dec. 5 in Milwaukee, Wis. Davis scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and had two steals in 16 minutes of action. Just as importantly, he did a quality job defensively against Golden Eagles' senior forward Lazar Hayward, who went 6 of 16 for 15 points against the various Wolfpack defenders. His energy has rubbed off on his teammates.
"The Marquette game gave him a lot of confidence," NC State junior center Tracy Smith said. "Coach Lowe told him to keep hustling. He hustles hard every day in practice. We call him 'Young go hard,' because he always goes hard. He's always in the right place at the right time."
Facing off against Hayward was the same as going against Brown in front of the Wolfpack coaches against the elite camp.
"I saw Hayward play last year on TV," Davis said. "I just had to beat him to the spot. I felt like I was quicker than him. He's a little stronger than me. That was real big for me. It boosted my confidence."
Davis' ability to play defense, fill a lane in transition and work the baseline, has translated well to Division I basketball. He hit his first deep jump shot against North Carolina Greensboro, but admits he definitely needs to work on his free-throw shooting (5 for 18 on the year).
"I know I have to work on my jump shot, No. 1, and free throws," Davis said. "I have to work on my ballhandling."
Lowe isn't asking Davis to do anything out of his comfort zone. He likes that he can count on him to be consistent each time out, and often times likes to say that Davis' greatest skill is that he plays hard. Lowe believes Davis will get more scoring opportunities when guards Ryan Harrow and Brown arrive next year and the team plays in the open court more.
"He can evolve, but I don't think [scoring] is important to him," Lowe said. "What is important to him is that he is out there on the floor, and he plays. What he does right now can be good enough to take him a long way. You play to your strengths."