The Wizard of Wapakoneta
By TOM STEPHENS
After watching Doug Davis coach the Wapakoneta boys basketball team in a couple of dozen games this year, I have two observations.
First, Davis yells softer than any man alive.
Second, Davis has done the best coaching job over the course of a season than I’ve seen in two decades, pick your sport.
I know Davis casually and only in the context of coach/reporter. Our contacts have been limited five or ten minutes talking about a particular game while offering opinions on which AC/DC album was the best (Davis says “Highway to Hell”, I say “Let There Be Rock”). My observations here are confined to the 32 minutes per game Davis had each night coaching his Redskins, whom he guided to a 21-3 record, an 8-1 mark in the murderous Western Buckeye League and a sectional title, losing their last in the district semis only after scaring the bejesus out of the No. 1 team in the state.
As to the former, I sat court-side for a half-dozen Redskins’ games and still have no idea what Davis yelling at his troops on the floor. Sure, Davis cups his hand to his mouth, shouts instructions, gestures, and jaws at the guys in the striped shirts just like any other coach, but I never heard any of it.
Regarding the latter, I’m coming to regard this past season as a minor classic. Anyone who thought the Wapakoneta boys were a 20-win team back in October has either a poor memory or a good alibi. Davis confounded everybody’s expectations by hanging a blackjack in the W column. What made this special was that he did it with just eight players.
High school basketball teams may have up to 13 players on the varsity roster, but Davis needed half the JV team just to fill the seats on far end of his bench. Davis had 60 percent of a basketball team. None of his eight varsity players went as much as two bills unless they happened to be carrying their backpacks. Also, the height of each Redskin player as listed in the program may have been an optimistic misprint.
Not having enough muscle to slam-and-bam in the big, bad WBL and not having enough wheels to sustain a run-and-gun offense, Davis craftily fashioned a quirky hybrid designed to take advantage of his octet’s quickness and soft shooting touch to confound and confuse coaches and basketball squads throughout northwest Ohio. Manic defense led to blitzkrieg scoring spurts, followed by a terminal weave-and-pass around the outside the arc, in turn followed by a spread offense, all in no particular order. This organized lunacy worked so well the Redskins themselves would occasionally get caught up in it and start throwing the ball away right and left, but Davis never panicked. He did exactly what all good coaches do. He put team in the best position to win at the end of the game.
The ‘Skins responded with a 90 percent winning percentage. One coach who came up on the short end of the ‘Skins mix of high theater and low farce put it best, saying “Wapakoneta is a really good ball team…I think.”
And a very well-coached ball team to be sure. Davis took to keeping substitutes at the scorer’s table and sending in a new lineup after every dead ball. The result was to keep the other team well off-balance, what with a new face to guard and/or break down every two minutes.
Full-court, man-to-man, restraining-order defense become the norm. The Redskins would throw a trap on their Grandma in a game of H-O-R-S-E. But wary of losing players to the bench because of foul problems, Davis wisely had his players concentrate on closing the passing lanes rather then going for steals. As a result, the Redskins were called for the least amount of fouls in the WBL while creating 62 more turnovers than they committed.
Not wanting to get into up-and-down games, Doug invoked Dean and stressed working the four corners on offense, regardless of who happened to be winning at the time. This befuddled fans and opposing coaches alike, both of whom loudly groaned and protested. The broadcast play-by-play guy doing the Defiance games said “shot clock” so many times on the air it was feared that we may have to hit the poor man with a tranquilizer dart. Many a coach and opposing fan could be seen doing the Cobra at Wapak games.
Make no mistake, the Redskins would frequently make hash of the whole thing as the tactics often went terribly wrong, but the overall strategy was wonderful and Davis managed both the tempo of the games and the clock to great effect. Down by nine late in the third quarter against Upper Sandusky in the district semis, Davis was running the spread, much to the consternation of the Red and White Faithful. Eight minutes later the ‘Skins were within a half-inch of iron of sending the game into overtime.
The only time Davis came close to drawing technical was when the refs screwed up the timekeeping and decided to keep time on the floor without telling Davis. Here he turned up the volume and for once I had no problem keeping track of his heated protests. It’s one thing to miss a traveling call or an open-field tackle on one of his players — as what happened at the Upper Sandusky game — but messing with the clock was quite another. Coaching to control the clock was his bailiwick and interlopers in black and white were unwelcome.
As we've said, it worked out beautifully for the Redskins in the end as they set a school record for wins having never broken the 20-win mark prior to this season. Of course, most of this was a result of the Redskins' athletic and enthusiastic play which made up for any number of failings.
But in the end, it was Davis who devised the plan that sent eight underweight and under-height players into the grinder that is the WBL schedule and came out smelling like a rose, losing only to powerful Ottawa-Glandorf in league play. No one, and I mean no one, thought that Wapak was better than a .500 team headed into the season, but Davis not only pulled a rabbit out of the hat, but pulled a sectional title out of it, too.
Because that's what wizards do.