The Vincennes University men's basketball season officially ended Monday when the NJCAA cancelled the national tournament due to COVID-19.
The Trailblazers officially started the 2020-21 season later that day with the announcement of their first recruit, 6-1 Taaj Davis.
Davis was about to play in the Illinois Class A state semifinals for Aurora Christian last week when the season was stopped by the IHSA because of the spreading concerns of the coronavirus. The point guard was a 26-point scorer for the Eagles, tallying 58 and 54 points in back-to-back games. He was named to The Associated Press Class A/2A All-State first team in Illinois last week and was the fourth-highest vote getter.
The left-hander's game is similar to another VU point guard of the recent past — Pun Tisdale. Coach Todd Franklin said "subconsciously" that may have drawn him to Davis.
"Taaj's game is a little bit like Pun's, a lefty who changes gears off the dribble and shields his body on drives. He's a hair shorter and not as long as Pun, but probably shoots the three better than Pun did coming out of high school," Franklin said. "If he can have a career that somewhat resembled Pun's at VU, I would be more than happy with that."
Franklin said that he thought Aurora Christian was going to win the state championship. The Eagles didn't figure to be a top team when the season started, with a couple of key players transferring. But Davis took over about half of the team's scoring at the beginning of the season, tallying over 30 points per game. Then when players emerged around him, he became more of a facilitator while routinely recording 20-plus points.
"Taaj seems to have a knack of putting the ball in the hole," Franklin said. "The big thing for guards these days is if they can handle ball screens. There's three things, scoring off of them, passing after using them and shooting behind them. He does all three."
While Davis only weighs 160, Franklin said he "strongly-built." Although Aurora Christian plays in the smallest class in Illinois, the coach said the guard played up in competition.
"Taaj's school is around Chicago and he's played against higher-level talent at times. It's not like he's a down-state 1A player," Franklin said. "Taaj is a good guy, a smart guy. It's hard to put up 50 points in a game, average 26 per game and win. He's done those things and had to do it for them to win.
"Scoring is a good skill to have."
The VU coach has made it a point to value guards who come from winning programs. Many of the point guards before Davis, such as Keith Clemons, Tisdale, Chris Darrington, Devin Foster and Charles Ashford, had winning backgrounds before coming to Vincennes and thrived while playing for the Blazers.
"We've had a lot of guards who for some reason were undervalued. To have ball-handling guards who have been on winners, that's a tangible that seems to be passed up by a lot of coaches," Franklin said.
"If I were a point guard who needed a junior college, and was a good guy, sign me up for VU. I don't know if any track record around is better. The guards we have had here have been ready for the next level," Franklin said. "Taaj was smart enough to see it early. Once he visited here, saw our game and knew what he was looking at, there was no hesitancy.
"We're excited about the chance to get to work with him."
Davis is the first of what is expected to be a big recruiting class. Eight sophomores, with either four or five of them starting games, are leaving after a 28-5 season that concluded by qualifying for the NJCAA national tournament for a record-tying eight consecutive season.
"The class isn't going to be less than eight. It could grow to nine or 10 easily. That's just the normalcy of juco life," Franklin said. "We will figure it out, do the best we can and I'm sure we'll put a representative team on the floor next year.
"Davis is step one in that process. We liked him and he liked us. We thought it was a good match so we made the move," he said. "We'll try to do that as we go on, finding guys who fit our program."