Profile: GMC's Davis gears up for school daze

Green Mountain College men's basketball and cross country coach Ben Davis. (Photo by Jon Olender)

Fall is a time of great energy, hillsides combusting into brilliant colors, serving as a backdrop for pumpkin picking, football games and hayrides. This one, though, will be unlike any other autumn for Green Mountain College coach Ben Davis. The Poultney college joins the NAIA this year and the athletic calendar becomes a bit more crowded. Basketball practices begin Oct. 1 now instead of mid-October as they did when the Eagles were affiliated with the NCAA. That means Davis, who also coaches the cross country team, will have a month where he is conducting two practices daily. “It will be a full month of craziness,” Davis said. Davis is entering his third year as both the cross country and men’s basketball coach. But that’s not all. He and his wife Jaya are expecting their first child in early November. He might not even have time to take in and appreciate Mother Nature’s colorful explosion in the mountains. Davis grew up in a small town near Madison, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for two years before transferring and graduating from the University of Minnesota. He has had no problem adjusting to New England. “There are a lot of similarities. The people are very nice in both places. I enjoy being here,” Davis said. He lives in Whitehall, New York, in a rural setting he describes as “in the country between Fair Haven and Whitehall.” It is a runner’s paradise. He runs daily and competed in a 20-miler back in Wisconsin in May. He trained for that race by running the D&H Rail Trail connecting Poultney and Castleton. When Jim Collins coached boys basketball and softball at Green Mountain Union High School in Chester, he had the adrenaline flowing during basketball and referred to coaching softball in the spring as “therapy.” Davis’ approach is different. “I don’t think any differently about recruiting or coaching cross country than I do basketball,” Davis said. “It is just like basketball in that it means a lot to the athletes. They put in the miles in the offseason.” He said the lifestyle in the area is as he imagined it, but there has been one revelation. “I am surprised at where we get our players from,” Davis said. He has had great success recruiting from California. The Eagles have four players returning from the Golden State and there are four Californians in the incoming freshman class. “The California students fit our school pretty well,” Davis said, citing their interest in GMC’s flagship majors involving sustainability and ecology. “From a basketball perspective, there are so many good players in California who do not get Division I scholarships and go unnoticed,” he said. He also has connections in Australia and has been able to bring several players from that country into the fold. He won’t leave the stone in his backyard unturned. Last year’s freshman class included Rutland High’s Tyrell Johnson, who is back after an outstanding season. “Tyrell had a great freshman year. He is a great competitor. He’s a tough guy to take off the court,” Davis said. Davis is excited about Green Mountain’s move to the NAIA. He gained an appreciation for the organization when he was an assistant basketball coach at Clarke University, an NAIA school sitting on a bluff above Dubuque, Iowa and the Mississippi River. “I got to know the NAIA pretty well,” he said. “There is a lot more time to work with your players. That is going to be a really big benefit for us in terms of skill development.” A casualty of the move is losing neighboring Castleton University on the basketball schedule. It has been a competitive rivalry. Last year, the Eagles and Spartans split their two games. “I hope we can get them back someday,” Davis said. But he is highly anticipating this basketball season because the program is now at a point where the Eagles will be entirely comprised of players he and his staff recruited. There is a photo on the wall of Davis’ office of a packed Rupp Arena. “I’m a big Kentucky basketball fan,” Davis said. That 23,000-seat basketball palace provides a stark contrast to the matchbox gym they call the Eagle Dome, where Davis plots strategy and will try to win games in the team’s new NAIA league, part of the Northeast Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. That’s fine with Davis. He loves being right where he is. Follow Tom on Twitter @RHSportsGuy

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