Like he never left: Ahead of return, Muss applauds ‘Devo’

University of Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (middle) has had a good week of practice leading to today’s game against Georgia, according to Coach Eric Musselman. “We’re excited to have Devo back. I think he’s excited,” Musselman said. “He’s been working hard.”
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
University of Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (middle) has had a good week of practice leading to today’s game against Georgia, according to Coach Eric Musselman. “We’re excited to have Devo back. I think he’s excited,” Musselman said. “He’s been working hard.” (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas men's basketball Coach Eric Musselman said it's been a good week of practice with Davonte "Devo" Davis back.

Davis, a 6-4 senior guard from Jacksonville who has played in 121 games, including 80 starts, returned to practice Monday after being away from the team for several days because of an undisclosed reason.

"We're excited to have Devo back. I think he's excited," Musselman said Friday. "He's been working hard. He's had a great week of practice.

"We talked about his conditioning, and he feels like he's back to where he was from a conditioning standpoint."

Arkansas (11-11, 2-7 SEC) resumes the second half of its conference schedule against Georgia (14-9, 4-6) at 5 p.m. today at Walton Arena.

Davis has had a full week to prepare for his return to the rotation because Arkansas didn't have a mid-week game.

"Guys have been great," Musselman said of the reaction to Davis' return. "I didn't notice a change at all in anybody, other than the fact he was back practicing and practicing hard."

Junior guard Tramon Mark, averaging a team-high 17.8 points, said Monday on Musselman's radio show it was good to see Davis at practice.

"Devo works hard," Mark said. "I know him stepping away was kind of shaky for the team, but he practiced with energy like he always does. So it was good for all of us having him back."

Davis played in Arkansas' first 19 games and started 18. He missed the previous three games when the Razorbacks lost to No. 17 Kentucky 63-57 at home, won at Missouri 91-84 and lost at LSU 95-74.

The last game for Davis was Arkansas' 77-51 loss at Ole Miss on Jan. 24. He started and played eight minutes in the first half without scoring, then didn't play in the second half after having some lapses on defense.

A few minutes before the Arkansas-Kentucky tipoff on Jan. 27, the UA emailed a one-sentence news release that stated Davis had "stepped away from the program."

Musselman said after the game he didn't want to comment on Davis' status beyond the statement.

In retrospect, the statement's vague wording and Musselman's refusal to expand on it might have helped leave the door open for Davis to come back.

"I've never speculated on anything," Musselman said Friday. "I think for us, it's you take each day as it comes.

"But yeah, I guess me personally, I thought he was going to return to the team."

It's the second consecutive season Davis left the Razorbacks temporarily.

After Davis didn't play in the second half or overtime of Arkansas' 78-74 victory over San Diego State in the Maui Invitational, he missed the Razorbacks's 74-61 victory over Troy in the next game.

Before the Troy game, Musselman issued a statement that Davis was "taking some time away from basketball" and had the team's full support. Afterward, Musselman said the team was "respecting Devo's privacy" in regard to why he missed the game.

Two days later, Arkansas released a statement that Davis had returned to the team.

"I am excited to be back with my teammates and coaches," Davis said at the time in the statement. "I want to thank my family, our fans, the Razorback basketball program and especially Coach Muss for the support shown to me this last week."

Davis has yet to comment on his most recent leave from the team.

Musselman announced Davis' return Monday night on his radio show and said they had a "great conversation in my office" on Sunday.

"You just sit down and talk to the player and you discuss how he's going to come back, how that process is going to work," Musselman said Friday. "What day he's going to come back to practice. What physically -- after being away for a little bit -- are you going to do. How much, how little. That was basically what the conversation was."

Davis was among 16 players voted to preseason All-SEC teams by the coaches -- he was a second-team choice -- but he's averaging a career-low 6.3 points along with 4 rebounds in 29 minutes.

Despite missing three games, Davis leads the Razorbacks with 40 assists.

A member of the SEC All-Defensive Team last season, Davis is one of nine Razorbacks who for his career has more than 900 points (1,061), 500 rebounds (501), 200 assists (293) and 100 steals (128).

Musselman said he's not sure how many minutes Davis will play against Georgia.

"I don't know if we know what any role is going to be right now," said Musselman, who has used 12 different starting combinations and given 13 players at least one start. "I don't ever go into a game thinking a player's going to play 15 or 30 [minutes].

"I think the game dictates it, especially this year. I think maybe in past years we've had a pretty set rotation.

"We're midway through [the SEC schedule] and we're undecided on a starting lineup. So I really can't tell you how many minutes Devo's going to play, other than the fact that the reason we discussed his conditioning was if he plays a lot, would he be ready to do that?

"But there's no restrictions whatsoever as far as his minutes from the trainer or the strength coach or the coaching staff."

It's anyone's guess what fan reaction will be to Davis today.

Fans cheered when Davis made his return last season in Arkansas' 99-58 victory over San Jose State and played 23 minutes.

"Devo has done some incredible things as part of this program," Musselman said. "You look at this success over the last three years and he's been a big part of it."

Davis helped the Razorbacks to an 8-3 record in NCAA Tournament games when they advanced to the Elite Eight in 2021 and 2022 and the Sweet 16 last season.

As a freshman, Davis averaged 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in four NCAA Tournament games. He hit the game-winning jump shot with 3.1 seconds left when Arkansas beat Oral Roberts 72-70 in a Sweet 16 matchup.

Davis helped the Razorbacks return to the Elite Eight in 2022 when he averaged 7.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists in four games.

Last season Davis had 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in Arkansas' 73-63 victory over Illinois in a first-round NCAA Tournament game, then he had 25 points, 8 rebounds and 1 assist when the Razorbacks beat defending national champion and No. 1 seed Kansas 72-71.

"We're finding out that it's not easy, one, to make an NCAA Tournament," Musselman said. "It's not easy to make a Sweet 16 -- three of them. It's not easy to make back-to-back Elite Eights.

"Devo's been a part of that, so hopefully everybody recognizes what he has done for the program."

Upcoming Events