On the night of the NBA draft this past June, Terence Davis gathered friends and family to watch what he expected to be the fulfillment of a life-long dream.
After four years playing with the Rebels at the University of Mississippi, the 22-year-old was anticipating getting the call to the big league.
Instead, as name after name was called, he had to tell them that, by his own choice, he wasn’t going to be drafted.
“After certain teams that I thought would pick me up [in the first round], after those teams had already picked, I just said, OK, second round, I have to go in the second round,” Davis told CBC Sports recently. “And those picks just kept on going and going. So it kind of got stressful because I had 50 of my family and friends there.
“Man, once I found out that some teams wanted to offer me two-way [contracts]. I just, I knew my worth. I knew what I was capable of, and I went with that.”
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Undrafted, Davis had only minutes to make one of the biggest decisions of his life. He declined the offers on the table. He opted instead to play in Summer League, where he hoped to impress an NBA team enough to earn a camp invite.
From there, he figured he could play his way onto the roster.
“All the guys that got picked, they got to lace them up in Summer League just like I do. We’ll see how all that plays out,” Davis said.
That’s exactly what happened. Davis played so well at Summer League that the Toronto Raptors offered him a guaranteed contract before pre-season began. Davis knew that Toronto had a good history of developing its young players; he wanted to be a Raptor, and the Raptors wanted him. It worked well.
Davis’s story bears a remarkable similarity to Fred VanVleet’s journey to the Raptors. VanVleet also went undrafted, and he too refused potential offers. In 2016, like Davis three years later, VanVleet stood in front of friends and family and told them the bad news.
“My story don’t end here,” VanVleet said then to his friends and family. “It’s just the beginning. It wouldn’t really make sense for my story if I did get picked.”
VanVleet’s story has served as a beacon of inspiration to other players in similar situations. Davis even shared a video of VanVleet’s speech on the night of his own draft disappointment.
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VanVleet recognized a like-minded spirit in Davis. They chatted after Davis’s Summer League ended and they formed a close bond. Though VanVleet is a young player — 25 — in his own right, he’s already a mentor for Davis.
“We talked all summer,” VanVleet said of Davis. “I got a chance to take him out for dinner and learn all about his story and we got to chop it up and I got to give him some game and just tell him that he’s on the right path.”
That dinner showed Davis that he had a friend and mentor in his new landing spot of Toronto.
“Great guy,” said Davis of VanVleet. “He took me out to dinner, and we talked, so I knew then I could lean on him, trust him, things of that sort.”
“Never dream too small; you can dream big. He helped me out with that.”
They’re both point guards. Their lockers are adjacent in the locker room. The Raptors are betting that the trust and kinship between the two will help Davis integrate into the NBA and improve rapidly.
Almost three years to the day after going undrafted, VanVleet was leading Toronto’s offence as the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors for the first NBA championship in the franchise’s history. VanVleet won a vote for Finals MVP, the only player not named Kawhi Leonard to earn such a distinction.
To expect such a career arc from Davis would be overly optimistic, and Davis shies away from any comparison of the two as players. Davis is bigger, stronger, and a converted point guard. He’s still honing many of the skills — shooting, vision, court leadership — that are second nature to VanVleet.
But toughness and physicality are hallmarks to both of their games.
“He’s a big, strong guy,” VanVleet said. “I haven’t seen him hit in the face yet, so I don’t know how he’ll react to it if he gets his face busted up. But he took a nice screen in the game the other day, he popped right back up. There’s guys that’ll stick their nose in there and battle for rebounds and dive for loose balls, and he seems like that kind of guy.”
The two may share an important gene, but even if they aren’t clones on the floor, their origin stories as NBA players are nearly identical.
Continually beating the odds helped make VanVleet the competitor he is today. The Raptors are betting the same road could have similar benefits for Davis.