Feel and passion for the game has led point guard in the right direction.
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It was a tie-up, just an accident. But the knee that slammed into Marcel Davis' face was unforgiving.
Broken nose. Broken jaw. Shattered cheekbone.
Then a rising junior in high school, Davis needed his face reconstructed and wired up. It was painful and unsightly. That's why his father couldn't understand when he was begging to go back on the court only 10 days later.
"He already had his scholarship, but he just bugged us to death," said Rodney Davis, Marcel's father. "We went rounds and rounds. There was no real reason to rush back. But his team really just had him as a true point guard, so he felt like he was letting his teammates down."
Davis did make it back to the court that summer, in 2010. Three years later, the same attitude and desire has helped Davis ascend to a starting role on the Utah State basketball team as a freshman.
Even his coaches, who were impressed watching Davis play through his injuries that summer, have been surprised as he keeps raising expectations.
"It's hard for a freshman to start in any system, and especially ours," coach Stew Morrill said. "He seems to get better every week. He's a true point guard, so he can score, but he knows his first role is to run the team. He'll continue to get better on the defensive end, but we couldn't be more pleased with what Marcel's getting done."
Since Western Athletic Conference play commenced, the baby-faced guard has been a rock for the Aggies. He's averaging 8.8 points in conference games, but has also posted WAC bests with 5.3 assists per game and a 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
At the start of the season, Davis looked flustered, even confused by the speed of the game around him. It wasn't until his third game that he notched his first assist. In his fourth game, he scored his first field goal.
But the progression came quickly, as Davis put up 21 points against Western Oregon, then 17 in his first start against Utah Valley. He acknowledges he's found his groove.
"Once I started believing I could play, that was when I started getting better," Davis said. "I watched this documentary on Magic Johnson, about how he tried to bring the effort and joy every game. I took that to heart, and tried to play and have fun out there."
Davis' recent game lines in particular, a 14-point, five-rebound, four-assist, no-turnover performance against Idaho have helped cement his reputation as being cool under pressure. His coaches say his decision-making doesn't reflect rookie nerves.
"He's been a sponge," USU assistant coach Tarvish Felton said. "He understands the game and concepts. His instinct on the floor is his biggest talent: He can really pass, and he knows what's going to happen next."
It has been one of Davis' longstanding talents understanding the flow of the game. Even as a scrawny freshman joining the high school team in American Fork, it wasn't long before his coaches saw the light and made him the starter.
American Fork coach Doug Meacham, once a walk-on at Utah who was tasked daily with guarding Andre Miller, sees similarities in the point guards' games.
"He's got this feel that is just natural," Meacham said. "He can finish around the rim. He doesn't turn it over. With the success you see with the freshmen who have played for Stew matched with Marcel's work ethic, I think he's got a high ceiling."
Even lined up against the all-time Aggie greats, Davis' freshman contributions don't have many precedents. Jaycee Carroll, Tyler Newbold and Tai Wesley all were significant contributors as freshmen, but had returned from their LDS Church missions.
The best comparison might be to Tony Brown, who averaged 11 points per game as a true freshman out of Mountain Crest. Davis is more conscious of a contemporary comparison his good friend and former AAU teammate Jordan Loveridge is along the same track at Utah.
Morrill often waxes poetic in practice about the achievements of those players and the Utah State teams of the past. Davis longs for his Aggie squads to be mentioned in the same breath.
But there's work to be done, he knows. And a good start won't keep him from continuing to refine his game.
"I'd say every day is harder, because your body breaks down faster, and you want to keep getting better," Davis said. "Whatever coach says is right, so I'll try my best at it. I know I'm trying to get better every day, but I want our team to get better, too."
Utah State freshman Marcel Davis has gotten his career off to a fast state, comparing well to other top Aggies who started as freshmen:
Player Starts Pts. Asst. FG% 3FG%
Marcel Davis 8 7.2 ppg 3.1 apg 57.8 43.2
Tony Brown 14 11 ppg 1.1 apg 40.5 36.3
Jaycee Carroll* 31 14.7 ppg 1.5 apg 52.3 47.6
Tyler Newbold* 25 5.4 ppg 1.6 apg 54.7 51.5
*returned from LDS church mission
San Jose State at Utah State
P Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Logan
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • KMYU
Radio • 960 & 1060 AM
Records • Utah State 13-1, 4-0; Idaho 9-6, 3-1
Series history • Utah State leads, 49-21
Last meeting • USU 71, SJSU 61 (March 1)
About the Aggies • Utah State is on a 12-game winning streak. ... Preston Medlin is averaging 21.3 points in WAC contests to lead the league.
About the Spartans • San Jose State boasts the leading scorer in the WAC, James Kinney, who is averaging 20.6 ppg this season and also leading the league with 2.43 steals per game.