LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The heavy hitters lined up across the front of the room, poised to confirm the news that Eric Crawford broke Monday:
Bellarmine University will be taking its talents to Division I and the ASun Conference.
Mayor Greg Fischer offered some glowing words. Ditto for university President Dr. Susan M. Donovan and Athletic Director Scott Wiegandt. ASun Commissioner Ted Gumbart coached the three-level crowd of several hundred to stop calling the league the “Atlantic Sun Conference.”
Let’s not bury the lede.
As soon as the formal media session ended, more than a dozen reporters swarmed the guy who should have been seated prominently at the head table: men’s basketball coach Scott Davenport.
If you’re scoring at home, credit for Bellarmine’s move to prime time must begin with Davenport. He’s the juice, the achiever and the dreamer who has made people believe in Bellarmine. Davenport is the guy who created, sold and delivered on the vision of everything Bellarmine Athletics can be. Davenport is the guy who took something that was good and made it considerably better.
And Davenport’s team will be the first program the world will judge as people assess the results of Bellarmine’s ambitious move to the DI shark tank.
Davenport is the relentlessly Can-Do coach who has persistently searched for ways to make his team, Bellarmine athletics and the university more dynamic.
More wins. More fans. More goals.
Some people talk about making a difference. Davenport follows up with action. He moves the needle — and the bar for achievement.
And he always has from the moment I met him on a downtown basketball court at Ahrens High School in 1979. He coached the junior varsity. Now he’s going to the world of Tony Bennetts and Jay Wrights.
“We’re still going to recruit players who embrace the way we play, the style of being unselfish, with the attitude they want to become part of Bellarmine,” Davenport said.
He pitched stories at Ahrens as vigorously as he has sold his vision at the University of Louisville, Virginia Commonwealth, Ballard High School and, finally, at Bellarmine since April 29, 2005.
Typical Davenport. For the last three days, he has worked the telephones, calling former Bellarmine players to thank them for the sweat equity they invested in building the program’s culture and brand.
“Without them, none of this is possible,” Davenport said. “When you always put (the players) first, I think the returns are the best. (The former players) deserve all the credit.”
Bellarmine will compete as a Division I program next season and then will work through a transitional period before the Knights are cleared for NCAA national tournaments in 2024-25.
At 5:45 a.m. Tuesday, Davenport’s players trained as if they were scheduled to play North Carolina on Thursday. They lifted weights for an hour and 15 minutes. Another hour of individual instruction work followed. Then they worked Davenport’s camp. Full-court games were scheduled for Tuesday night.
“Coach Davenport is always excited and ready to go to work, but I could tell he was even more excited when he told us what was going to happen (Monday)," said Nick Thelen, one of Bellarmine’s incoming freshman basketball players. “He’s always ready for the next challenge.”
Yes, Davenport is. Whether it was playing an exhibition game against Cincinnati at Freedom Hall, taking his team to Xavier, Indiana, Louisville or Duke for exhibition games or winning the 2011 Division II national title, Davenport has never been afraid to take a punch.
You can’t knock him down or discourage him. Davenport could teach Dr. Norman Vincent Peale something about the power of positive thinking. You can be certain Davenport was thinking what another one of his incoming freshmen, guard Drew Comer, thought during the announcement Tuesday.
“Everybody who has ever played basketball has filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket and cheered for their favorite team to advance,” Comer said. “To think that in a few (five) seasons it will be possible to write Bellarmine in a bracket and watch us advance is just incredible.”
Incredible is the perfect word, because nobody was talking about Bellarmine upgrading to Division I when Davenport arrived 14 years ago. Davenport changed the narrative.
Now he’ll face the challenge — and opportunity — to change it again. In the ASun, Davenport will confront coaches and programs as ruthlessly ambitious competitive as he is.
Kennesaw State and North Florida moved to Division I in 2006. NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) followed a year later. Then came Florida Gulf Coast. North Alabama joined the fun last season.
The school is following the same playbook many universities have tried: Use the allure of a Division I athletic program to grow the student body.
Know this: The winner of the Atlantic Sun (oops, ASun) conference men’s basketball tournament has won its opening NCAA Tournament game in four of the last seven seasons, a stretch that included Florida Gulf Coast taking down Georgetown and San Diego State in 2013; Mercer toppling Duke in 2014 and Liberty eliminating Mississippi State last March.
You’d better be serious about Division I basketball if you’re moving into the ASun. Davenport and Bellarmine certainly qualify.
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