Thomas Bryant’s days in the cream and crimson could be numbered. The extra-long candy stripe pants might go back in the equipment room at the end of the season, waiting for the next 7-foot Indiana University recruit to come dust them off for pre-game warm-ups.
Indiana’s starting center is a projected early second-round pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, and after forgoing the Draft after his freshman season, the professional ranks will be even more enticing for the big man.
No decision is likely to be made for a while, and with the NBA’s new rule that allows college players to test the professional waters at the draft combine before making a final decision to leave school, Bryant will leave Hoosier Nation in limbo for the next several months.
Whether the sophomore stays in Bloomington or bails for the big bucks, the Hoosiers will eventually need another player to fill Bryant’s shoes, or those of Indiana’s other top forward, OG Anunoby, who could easily be a top-20 pick in this summer’s draft, as well.
It appears that De’Ron Davis is more than ready for that role.
Davis came to Indiana as one of Tom Crean’s top-two recruits, along with Curtis Jones. Davis was a four-star recruit out of Colorado, where he led his team to two state titles and was named the state’s Mr. Basketball. Crean had been recruiting Davis since middle school, so landing the 6-10 big man was big for the Hoosiers, especially with their minimal scholarship room heading into the 2016-17 season.
Another bonus for Crean and his bunch was slowly working Davis into a system that had an already-established post presence in Bryant. Bryant averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds as a freshman.
With Bryant — a preseason All-American — averaging 29 minutes a game, Crean could sprinkle Davis into the lineup sparingly. Davis’ size and athleticism made him plenty capable of giving Bryant quick blows or covering in a foul-trouble situation, but he wasn’t a regular part of the rotation.
Davis tallied more than 15 minutes of playing time only five times during the non-conference season. His first 20-plus-minute game came on Feb. 1 in a triple overtime game against Penn State. He’s only had three such games all season.
The freshman forward averages just 13.9 minutes per game. However, in the short time he’s on the floor Davis has made the most of it.
He averages 6.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game and has been efficient in doing so. He’s a 52-percent field-goal shooter and is a solid 75 percent from the foul line. Of his 95 rebounds, half have come on the offensive end. He’s also second on the team with 22 blocked shots.
As Davis has gotten more comfortable with his role, he’s become more impressive on the floor. He’s averaging 7.6 points per game in the month of February and scored in double figures twice against Michigan in Minnesota.
Against Michigan, he had 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting in just 14 minutes. His numbers against Minnesota were even more impressive — 10 points and 5 rebounds in just nine minutes, although he did manage to foul out.
He was a perfect 2 for 2 from the field and 4 for 4 from the charity stripe against Wisconsin on Feb. 5 and scored 12 against the Badgers in January.
Davis has hardly dominated, but the Hoosiers haven’t needed him to. He’s filled a relief position for Indiana’s third-leading scorer, and he’s figured out his own strengths along the way.
It’s too early to tell how alike Bryant and Davis are — Bryant is 21 for 55 from 3-point range this season; Davis is 0 for 0. But the Hoosiers have continuously relied on big men during Crean’s tenure in Bloomington — Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, Bryant — so Davis will become more and more of an asset as time goes by. Once Bryant leaves, which again, could be this summer, Davis will become an integral part of the offense.
The pressure has been low for Davis during his freshman season and he’s managed to thrive in his role coming off the bench. His early playing time should give him a jump start to becoming the next low-post monster to stomp around Assembly Hall.