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Father Knows Best

Dec. 13, 1999

This article written by Liz Newall appeared in the Fall 1999 issue of Clemson World.

In a profession that’s notorious for taking its best members away from their families, Jim Davis, Clemson’s record-setting coach of women’s basketball, is the epitome of a family man.

Davis says that he and wife, Bobbie, have one son and 15 daughters. The one son, Todd, they had the old-fashioned way, but the daughters they recruit each year. In other words, Davis considers his women’s basketball players as family. That may be part of his secret to success.

In his 12 years at Clemson, he’s built quite a “family” legacy. At each former women’s basketball players’ biennial reunion, Davis says he wears his arms out holding his new “grandchildren.”

“I’m so proud of the way our former players have gone on to become successful in their careers and with their own families,” says Davis in a paternal voice. “All Clemson can be just as proud of these student-athlete alumnae.”

This may seem too much family for many coaches, but Davis says simply, “I like having people around me.” No wonder. He came from a very large family, 12 children in all, who believed in working hard and playing hard. The Davises populated the little town of Englewood, Tenn., where the kids made up the bulk of the team, regardless of the sport.

That accounts for the closeness and devotion to the team, but experience has something to do with his success, too.

While working on an education degree, Davis began coaching at the junior high level. After he completed his teaching degree, he continued to coach practically every high school sport available. But women’s basketball was where he felt his calling as a coach. “It was the power sport in small Tennessee communities,” Davis recalls. “Some people would come to see the girls’ game and leave before the boys’ game started.”

Coaching collegiate women’s basketball was the next logical step. Davis began at Roane State Community College in Tennessee, where he led the team to win the National Junior College Athletic Association Championship.

After a year as an assistant coach at the University of Florida, he became head coach at Middle Tennessee State where he turned the program around in one year and helped the team reach the runners-up title in the Ohio Valley Conference Championship. Then, in 1987, Davis joined the University as head coach, and the rest is Clemson history.

If you ask him why his program at Clemson has been so successful – two ACC Championships, 11 NCAA appearances, to mention a few highlights – he’ll tell you he has an excellent coaching staff of Sam Dixon, Jody Hensen and Yolanda Settles.

He’ll quickly add that they’re building on the powerful foundation laid by previous coach Annie Tribble, a member of the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame. He’ll also tell you how tremendous fan support of the team has been.

Then he’ll tell you the players are the ones who make it happen with their dedication, talent and motivation, summed up in their motto of “be the best.” But you wonder how he’s able to coordinate all the components – how he can get “the best” out of everyone involved.

It may come down to the fact that he expects the best – as a father and coach combined. For example, even though Davis will let you get away with saying “women’s basketball,” don’t try just “Tigers.”

Davis says, “As long as I’m here, the team will be the ‘Lady Tigers.’ I tell them to be Tigers on the court and ladies off the court. And that’s what I expect.”

He expects them to be role models, too. Players visit local elementary schools and the Children’s Hospital of the Greenville Hospital System and take part in YWCA basketball clinics and other outreach programs they can squeeze in between studies and practice.

Davis also tells all prospective players, “Don’t come to Clemson if you don’t plan to graduate.” Since 1975, the school has compiled a whopping 100 percent graduation rate for all Lady Tigers who’ve come to Clemson and stayed in the program for four years.

But all the fatherly advice aside, Davis expects to win. So do his players. And win they do, setting Clemson records along the way.

In addition to winning the ACC title in 1996, the first basketball championship in Clemson history, and again in 1999, Davis and the Lady Tigers went undefeated at home during the 1997-98 season for the first time in school history and set another school record for the most ACC wins in a single season.

But what about the upcoming year? Davis says that in addition to losing four starters, the one returning starter, center Erin Batth, has undergone major knee surgery over the summer.

She’s working hard to get ready, says Davis. And the rest of the returning team, though not starters last year, are all veterans of tournament play. “One of our goals is to help every player improve every year,” says Davis. “We do that by playing a lot of team members. Experience pays, especially under pressure.

“Or as my daddy used to say, ‘When the heat’s on, the cream rises to the top.’ Our staff welcomes the challenge. As for the Lady Tigers, we don’t expect to miss a beat.”

That may be the key to Davis’ success – an innate ability to combine the caring of a father, the savvy of a seasoned coach and Clemson’s own fierce sense of competition.

What of last year’s fabulous four seniors?

National Three-Point Shooter Champion Amy Geren is in Portugal playing European ball, and Itoro Umoh will be making her own coaching mark as an assistant at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Natasha Anderson and Nikki Blassingame are finishing their degrees at Clemson and helping the coaching staff shape the current team of Lady Tigers.