Wisconsin's Johnny Davis makes case to the Wizards: 'I feel like this is a spot I could land'

Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis makes case to the Wizards: ‘I feel like this is a spot I could land’

WASHINGTON — If the Washington Wizards draft University of Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis 10th overall later this month, Davis’ reaction to adversity on Thursday may have helped win the team over.

For a few agonizing moments, with millions of dollars in future earnings possibly at stake, Davis struggled to draw air into his lungs. The Wizards directed him to complete 20 full-court sprints in a two-minute span, touching the baseline as he completed each trip down the floor — and do all that after he already had played one-on-one.

Shortly after, with everyone inside the Wizards’ practice gym still watching, Davis, at one stretch, drained 8 of 10 3-pointers during a solo shooting drill.

“It just showed my ability to not quit,” Davis recalled. “There was a little stretch there where I honestly thought I couldn’t breathe. But those guys, they were telling me to just keep going, keep pushing through it. So, that’s what I did. And then once we got to the shots, I just tried to be as calm and cool as I could while shooting them.”

Arguably even more impressive was how he said he drew lessons from the experience, that he discovered a flaw he intends to correct. He acknowledged he didn’t enjoy the conditioning work, but he added, “I like that it taught me something — that I need to go back to Miami with my agency and do a lot more conditioning.” Hearing him utter those words made it easy to extrapolate that Davis will be a resilient professional, someone who would regard inevitable rookie mistakes as opportunities to improve.

Davis, the reigning Big Ten Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and a consensus All-American, could, indeed, go 10th to Washington. Team officials interviewed him during the recent NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, and he is the highest-rated prospect among the 13 players the Wizards are known to have hosted for workouts so far this offseason.

Davis blossomed as a sophomore for the Badgers in 2021-22, averaging 19.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while also playing physical defense. His game is not perfect, however. After making nearly 39 percent of his 3s as a freshman, he plummeted to 31 percent this past season, something he said he is eager to show was a fluke. He also tallied more turnovers (2.3 per game) than assists (2.1), signaling he may be much better suited to being a shooting guard than a distributor.

The Wizards need a starting point guard, but they would benefit from adding depth on the wing. Swingman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s partially guaranteed $14 million salary for the upcoming season is an asset that could be crucial in a trade for a point guard. Bradley Beal is on track to become an unrestricted free agent, though he appears likely to re-sign with the team.

On Thursday, Washington also hosted Virginia Tech forward Keve Aluma, Michigan State big Marcus Bingham Jr., Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, Villanova guard Collin Gillespie, Texas A&M guard Quenton Jackson and St. John’s forward Aaron Wheeler for a group workout. None of them are in play at No. 10 for the Wizards, who also hold the 54th pick.


Johnny Davis averaged 19.7 points per game for Wisconsin during the 2021-22 season. (Jeff Hanisch / USA Today)

Cockburn’s Fighting Illini faced Davis’ Badgers once last season, with the Illini winning 80-67 despite Davis’ 22-point, 15-rebound performance. Davis made just five of his 19 shot attempts, but he generated plenty of free-throw opportunities, going 11 of 14 from the line.

“Visually, I saw he’s stronger than most guards,” Cockburn said when asked about that game. “He’s bigger, obviously, so he uses his length. Just watching him in the post, he’s a high-level scorer, so he scores the ball both off the dribble and on jump shots in the post. When I’ve seen him in the post, he looked really physical.”

Davis sat on the bleachers as Cockburn and the five other prospects completed their group workout. Since Thursday’s session was Davis’ first pre-draft workout for any team, he said he felt some nerves. Having to sit and watch may have been akin to calling a timeout in football to ice a placekicker about to attempt a game-tying field goal.

He watched the others do 20 full-court sprints and said he prepared himself mentally to do the same.

Key members of the Wizards’ front office watched Davis, including president and general manager Tommy Sheppard, assistant GM Brett Greenberg, vice president of college personnel Frank Ross, vice president of pro personnel Johnny Rogers, senior director of pro personnel Antawn Jamison and senior director of college staff Tony DiLeo. The coaching staff also attended, including head coach Wes Unseld Jr.

“I’ve never had a workout like that before,” Davis said. “Of course, when I practiced in college or high school, we were doing the same drills, but it’s definitely not as intense as doing it for an NBA team.”

Davis told The Athletic he has workouts scheduled next week with the Detroit Pistons, who own the fifth pick, and the San Antonio Spurs, who own the ninth pick.

If Washington-area fans don’t recognize Davis from his college career, they might remember him from a recent Taco Bell television commercial that aired during the Western Conference finals. When he waited inside Miami International Airport for his flight to Washington, a few people approached him and asked if he was the guy from the commercial.

He should become more widely known around the area if the Wizards draft him.

“Especially with the projections and all that right now, I feel like this is a spot I could land at and be able to come in and make an impact right away,” Davis said. “I just wanted to be able to show the whole front office and the coaches that I can hoop.”

(Top screen grab courtesy of the Washington Wizards)

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