IOWA CITY, Ia. — Keno Davis can’t put Carver-Hawkeye Arena in his past, no matter how hard he tries.
He once sat at the end of the Iowa bench, cheering on Hawkeye basketball teams coached by his father, Tom, and later served as a undergraduate assistant. He made several trips back as a member of his father’s Drake coaching staff, and beat the Hawkeyes as the Bulldogs’ head coach in 2007.
Then he worked a couple of Iowa games as an analyst for the Big Ten Network last season. And Monday, Davis returns as Central Michigan’s head coach for a 6:30 p.m. game against the Hawkeyes.
“And I didn’t schedule any of them,” Davis said. “Iowa and Drake always played. The Big Ten Network told me what games I was working. After I got the Central Michigan job, they said the first game they had on their schedule was at Iowa. But it’s always neat to come back to Iowa City.”
After winning national coach of the year honors at Drake in 2007-08, Davis jumped into the Big East. Providence pulled the plug on him after three seasons. He spent last season working for the BTN and kept his options open.
“I think even last year, while I was broadcasting, I still thought of myself as a coach,” Davis said. “And I knew if the right opportunity came up, I would go back in that direction. There was also an enjoyment and comfort level doing broadcasting. I could have seen myself doing it as a career. Central Michigan was one of only a couple jobs that opened that I had any interest in, with my ties to the Midwest.”
Like Keno, Central Michigan is starting over.
“It really is a completely new start in that there’s just four returning players from last year, and all four were role players,” said Davis, who starts two freshmen. “We’ll rely on a lot of new faces.”
Davis is borrowing the blueprint his father used to turn Drake into a winning program. The Bulldogs had 20 consecutive losing seasons until going 17-15 in 2006-07, Tom Davis’s fourth and final year as coach. Central Michigan was 15-15
in 2009-10, but hasn’t had a winning season since going 25-7 in 2002-03.
Keno calls the situation at Drake heading into the 2003-04 season and Central Michigan this year “eerily similar.” Like he did at Drake, Keno has worked to engage the student body, reach out to alumni and establish a grassroots recruiting base.
“Those things might not bring immediate returns, but down the road they’re all important to building a program,” Davis said.
Keno used to watch Roy Marble and Kevin Gamble play for his father’s Hawkeye teams. Now, Gamble is on his coaching staff, and they’ll be coaching today against Marble’s son, Devyn.
“To be able to see Roy’s son and the success he’s had, it’s really been enjoyable to follow his progress,” Davis said.
Davis sees a lot of his father’s playing style in Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s system.
“He’s done a great job of continuing to move the program forward,” Davis said. “It’s an up-tempo, pressure defense, fast-breaking team. An extremely hard-working team. They crash the boards. They’re a physical team.”
WHO: Central Michigan (0-0) at Iowa (1-0)
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
TIPOFF: 6:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $14 adults, $5 youth and UI students.
TELEVISION: Big Ten Network
RADIO: WHO-AM (1040) and Hawkeye Radio Network
STAT LEADERS: For Central Michigan — Zach Saylor 17.0 ppg; Saylor 6.0 rpg; Kyle Randall/Chris Fowler, 4.0 apg. For Iowa — Aaron White 16.0 ppg; Zach McCabe 8.0 rpg; Mike Gesell/Devyn Marble 4.0 apg.
ABOUT THE CHIPPEWAS: Starting forward John Simons, a freshman, is the brother of Drake senior forward Ben Simons.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Iowa’s 10 blocked shots in Friday’s season opener against Texas-Pan American were the most since a Nov. 14, 2005 game against Maryland-Eastern Shore.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Central Michigan assistant coach Kevin Gamble played for Iowa and averaged 11.9 points on the Hawkeyes’ 30-5 team in 1986-87.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball