The Many Shades of Larry Davidson

larry davidson illustrationLarry Davidson’s reputation precedes him.

The bandanas, the hairstyles, the beard, the stories… It’s easy to judge a book by its cover.

But there’s much more to Big Larry than meets the eye. He’s one of the more interesting characters in the game, yes, but the eleven-year veteran is also a resilient, dedicated pro and one of the sharpest basketball minds in the NBL.

As a teen, Davidson was one of the brightest young stars in the country, a big guy with rich sporting bloodlines, a versatile skill set and a keen understanding of the game.

A scholarship-holder at the AIS, he led New South Wales to a national title at the ‘02 U20 Australian Junior Championships with an MVP performance.  To this day, the Davidson name sits on the honour roll of Bob Staunton Medal winners alongside legends (Tony Ronaldson, Brett Maher and Sam Mackinnon) and current stars (Daman Martin, Brad Newley, Patty Mills and Dante Exum) of Australian hoops.

The basketball world was his oyster and he was ready to embrace it, accepting a scholarship offer from Boise State University.

What followed, however, was a frustrating period of injury after injury after injury.  All in all, three knee surgeries in a row.

“It was about two years of just surgery, rehabbing, surgery, rehabbing, trying to play,” Davidson told Downtown. “It was a bit boring by the end of it.”

Boring to the extent that he considered moving on from the game?

“Nah, not really. I had the attitude that it’d be alright, I’ll work it out.”

It was a level of resilience rarely found in young athletes.

“The big thing with Larry that a lot of people don’t understand is that he had a lot of injury issues through his AIS days and his college days,” former coach Gordie McLeod told the Illawarra Mercury earlier this year.

Davidson returned home without playing a single game for Boise State and, when his knees started to come good, was recruited by Adrian Hurley to turn pro and join the Hunter Pirates.

“There were a lot of doubters out there who weren’t sure he’d make it through many seasons,” McLeod added. “He changed a few things around and knuckled down at being a pro, really worked hard on looking after his body.”

Currently a free agent, Davidson expects the details of a new contract with the Illawarra Hawks to be ironed out in the coming days; a contract that will see him enter his ninth season at the club.

Recently-hired Hawks coach Rob Beveridge, who worked with Larry on that NSW team, can’t wait to reunite with the big fella.

“I’ve coached Larry, I love him to death,” Beveridge said recently on the Downtown podcast. “He’s a tremendous passer of the ball, can shoot the three, can play inside. I’m going to try to get him to play loose and take risks.  He’s a really good decision maker, a good basketball mind.”

I watched that mind in action late last season during Wollongong’s road win over Melbourne United.  Big Larry methodically carved Melbourne up that night, working the high pick-and-roll to perfection and dropping 16 points on 7/10 shooting from the field.

It was simple basketball, kept simple.

United were far from that at the time and Big Larry knew it, punishing their lack of defensive cohesion with easy basket after easy basket.  He adapted too, pitching to open corner shooters when the defensive did eventually attempt to rotate. It was a simple plan hatched pre-game with point guard Rhys Martin – a plan devised out of Davidson’s diligent approach to scouting his opposition.

“I learnt pretty early on that I’d have to use my brain more than my physical abilities,” Davidson said. “When it comes to scouting the opposition – their plays and their players – I figure I better know as much as I can before the game starts because if it comes down to an athletic contest or a strength contest I’m probably going to lose.”

In fact, Davidson is the J. Edgar Hoover of the Australian basketball scene.  If you’ve matched up against him at some stage over the years, there’s a good chance he’s got a file on you in his archives; notes on your strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.

“He keeps a notebook and takes notes from every team meeting, film session, scouting report, etc.,” former teammate Adam Ballinger said.

“Yeah, I usually get a folder at the start of each year and start filling it out,” Davidson responded when probed on his files. “When we have video sessions for each team, I write down what I see and what I think will work.  Then after the game I usually put down what did or didn’t work.”

It’s a side of Davidson’s personality and professionalism that often takes people by surprise.

I mean, here’s a guy who considered Hulk Hogan his favourite athlete growing up, has memorised Point Break line by line, watches Mixed Martial Arts in his spare time and wore a custom-made superman cape to class in high school.

“Haha, yeah… Superman cape and blue trackies with little pink poker dots, to school at Lake G!” fellow AIS scholarship holder Rhys Carter recalls. “Not all the time, but multiple times. He thought it was funny to watch people’s reactions to his outfit.  Just doesn’t care what people think.”

I’ll admit, chatting to Davidson about the game made me feel a little like Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers, when he finally met up with legendary crasher Chazz Reinhold.

Over meatloaf, we talked hoops. Actually there was no meatloaf – I wish there’d been meatloaf – but man, I could’ve talked hoops with the big fella for days.

He would be a valuable addition to an NBL coaching staff when his playing days are over, but Larry has other ideas about his post-basketball career.

He’s studying to become a primary school teacher.

“I get a bit of a kick out of being around the kids at all the school clinics and holiday camps so I thought that primary teaching would probably be good,” he said. “Plus the holidays sounded pretty sweet.”

“I’m hoping that I can go into that when I finish playing so that I don’t have any real layover,” he added. “At least I’ve got a plan now, especially after what happened after last season with the club going into administration.  That’s when you start thinking ‘I’d better figure something out for what I’m going to do when I finish playing’.”

So how does a bloke his size go in the miniature world of a primary school classroom?

“Yeah, when I walk in front of a class there’s usually some dropped jaws and wide eyes at how tall I am,” he laughed. “You get the odd kid saying ‘my dad’s taller than you’. I usually say ‘I’ve never met your dad but I guarantee he’s not taller than me’.”

An NBL dossier… primary school teaching… it’s too easy to judge a book by its cover. 

The Larry Davidson who once told the league’s media department that his regular pre-game meal is the head of a barramundi is the same bloke who analyses the game – and his life – in more detail than most.

The same bloke who has thought his way through eleven years as a pro, after injuries nearly prevented him making the start line.

“It is exciting,” he said when asked about the coming season. “Looking at some of the rosters being put together around the league, I think it’s going to be pretty wide open again as it has been for a while.”

With the Hawks constructing an impressive new roster of their own, they figure to be right in amongst it.  And as they’re pushing for a playoff birth nine months from now, watch for Big Larry; he’ll be thinking his way through it as usual.

 

Illustration by Adam Ballinger.  For more of his work check out adamballinger.com

 

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