LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There are certain things I do when I feel like I need to get my bearings, or cleanse my mental palate. With writing, I'll pull down Mark Twain and read for a little bit, or E.B. White. If I worry about the country, I'll watch the HBO "Band of Brothers" documentary, "We Stand Alone Together."
They may sound corny, but there are any number of touchstones I'll use to bring myself back to level ground.
This, therefore, should be no surprise. If I want to get back to basketball, I go to Bellarmine. If you ever get tired of watching teams not find the open man or not enter the ball into the post or not rotate to help defensively, Bellarmine is a welcome change.
Now, no team is perfect, and no team is always on its game. But when the Knights are playing their game, basketball ceases to become a test of brute strength and reverts back to the skill and teamwork of its origins.
You forget, if you're too long away from it, what it's like to see a team attack a zone defense with the pass. For Bellarmine, at least its starting unit in Monday night's 86-51 victory over West Virginia Tech, every player who caught a pass on the perimeter instantly used a shot-fake. And it wasn't a cursory shot-fake, either. Catch. Triple-threat position. One bounce, then shot, or pass. The ball moved quickly, and with each offensive move, ball-fake or pass, the zone scrambled and became a little less organized.
No. 2-ranked Bellarmine stormed to a 70-28 lead, then coasted. But players were down in the locker room afterward.
It was the Knights' worst shooting night of the season. They shot 44 percent. They came in shooting just over 57 percent as a team. Still, on their worst shooting night of the season, the Knights managed 26 assists on their 33 field goals.
"They're down. It's this whole generation, they're down because the ball didn't go in," Davenport said. "It's our least production of the year from a shooting standpoint, but we had good shots, and good execution, and we got to play a lot of people. Finals are a tough little stretch. Thursday night we're done completely. We kid them about being professional players, but they'll have no other obligations now for three and a half weeks.
"Everybody talks about how we play together, 26 assists and all that. What we strive for is to play together on defense. We don't have a Gary Payton, who is a great on-ball defender. . . . This defense is a work in progress."
Watch Davenport on the sidelines and you'll notice something. It's rarely the defender on the ball who he gets on. (Oh, yes. He does get on a player from time to time). No, it's the help defender that feels his wrath.
"Always," Davenport said. "We like to stop and stare, and we can't do that. But if you saw them working in practice, you'd be amazed."
Bellarmine has no eraser in the middle to make up for failures in perimeter defense, though it has several players who block their share of shots. Defense, then, has to come through motion, rotation, not just helping the on-ball defender, but helping the helper.
"It has to be five guys," Davenport said. "Everybody feeds off everybody. That's our goal every night."
It's the beauty of this style of play. It isn't done with athleticism or skill alone, though there's plenty of that. It only works if it's done as a team. One breakdown and it doesn't work. But play as a team, move the ball and defend as a unit, and you can miss 30 three-pointers and still find yourself leading by 42.
"What's happening with this basketball team is they are beginning to really embrace the idea of playing with each other. And as a coach, that's exciting," Davenport said. " . . . We're getting closer. Not there yet, there are a lot of new parts."
And one more new part is on the way. Donnie Hale will transfer in from Purdue at mid-semester, giving the Knights an infusion of size and rebounding. It will take some time for the team to adjust to the 6-8 sophomore and former Indiana All-Star. But they're already looking forward to it.
"Donnie has finished at Purdue," Davenport said. "All grades will be posted. If we can get him certified with Bellarmine and everything, we'd like to get him in practice this weekend where he can just go through the game rituals. But I wouldn't foresee him playing.
"I talked to him right before his last final. He said, 'I'm packed. I'm coming home.' He's excited, and our players are excited. They're asking me, when's Donnie coming?"
A finals week crowd of 1,461 watched the Knights beat West Virginia Tech. Davenport is hoping for bigger crowds in the renovated Knights Hall this weekend when his team plays host to Virginia Union on Friday and Ohio Valley on Saturday.
"These kids deserve it," Davenport said. "It's great basketball."