Before Hoosiers and Chitwood, there were Walnut and Kermit Davis Sr.
Editor's note: On Saturday night, July 30, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2022. What follows is Part VII of a series detailing the achievements of the eight inductees, today featuring basketball's Kermit Davis Sr.
Kermit Davis Sr. has been so much a part of significant Mississippi basketball history, it makes you wonder why this 86-year-old man was never inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame before this Saturday night.
Just to hit the highlights:
- Kermit Sr. played high school basketball in his tiny hometown of Walnut and led the Walnut Wildcats to the Grand Slam state championship, defeating much larger Forest Hill High in the finals in 1955. It was a Mississippi version of the movie “Hoosiers” with Kermit Sr. scoring 27 points a game and playing the Magnolia State version of Jimmy Chitwood.
- That same year he played in the very first Mississippi High School Basketball All-Star Game.
- When the legendary Babe McCarthy signed on to coach Mississippi State, his first recruit was Kermit Davis Sr.
- When McCarthy asked Davis if he knew of any taller players who might could help State, Davis replied, “You might want to talk to this guy I played junior high ball with. His name is Bailey Howell. He's up in Tennessee.”
- Kermit Sr. coached Tupelo High to consecutive Big Eight Conference and Grand Slam championships in 1965-66. His Tupelo teams won 131 games and lost only 23 and finished the remarkable 1966 season with a remarkable 40-1 record. When Tupelo defeated Pelahatchie for the Grand Slam title in 1966 the overflow crowd at Mississippi Coliseum was the largest basketball crowd in state history, high school or college.
- In 1970-71, his first season as head coach at Mississippi State, he earned Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year honors, the same honor his son, Kermit Jr., would win 48 years later at Ole Miss.
The story of how Kermit Davis Sr. became McCarthy's first recruit is worth retelling. Davis was playing in a tournament at Baldwyn, McCarthy's hometown, when he bumped into McCarthy, a former high school coach who was officiating at the time. Davis remembers the conversation this way:
McCarthy: “Nice game tonight, Davis. By the way, have you decided where you want to play college basketball?”
Davis: “Probably either Memphis State or Ole Miss. Probably gonna go play for Country Graham at Ole Miss.”
McCarthy: “You might want to think about that. I happen to know who the next coach at Mississippi State is going to be, and I also happen to know that he is really interested in you.”
Davis: “Yeah, who is that?”
Not long after, Dudy Noble, the State athletic director at the time, hired McCarthy. McCarthy subsequently signed Davis and later Howell. The Bulldogs won 79 games and lost only 16 during Davis's college career. Davis will tell you that was mostly because of Bailey Howell. And he is right. Howell averaged 27 points and 17 rebounds for his college career. But many of those baskets came on assists from Davis.
As head coach at State, Davis recruited and coached two future first round NBA draft picks in Ricky Brown and Wiley Peck. Davis also played a major role in helping to raise the money to construct Humphrey Coliseum.
He became the associate director of State's Bulldog Club in 1980 and helped raise money to expand Scott Field, the school's tennis facility, the track and field facility and Dudy Noble Field. All those facilities were entirely funded by private contributions raised by the Bulldog Club during the 1980s.
Although he says he still bleeds maroon, Kermit Sr. has been a fixture in recent years at Ole Miss basketball games, pulling for his son's Rebels. Kermit Jr. grew up a gym rat attending the practices of his father's teams at Tupelo and Mississippi State. Kermit Jr. who majored in business as a walk-on student-athlete at State, says he never considered being anything other than a coach like his dad.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” Kermit Jr. says.
And what did he take from watching his dad's practices and games. X's and O's?
“Not really so much the X's and O's,” Kermit Jr. replies. “What I learned watching Dad was how he handled and treated people – not just his players and assistant coaches. I'm talking about the time he spent and the way he treated everybody, including the people who swept the floors. He enjoys people so much and he knew how to treat them. That's what made him the coach he was and man he is.”
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