By Steve Williams

A.W. Davis was the first big-name University of Tennessee basketball star in my youth and it was sad to hear that he had passed away last week at the age of 71. He was just as fine a person as he was a basketball player.

After having an outstanding high school career in the early 1960s at Rutledge, where he earned the nickname, “The Rutledge Rifle,” Davis went on to become an All-American his senior season at UT in 1965. That year, the 6-7 forward also was the Vols’ captain and MVP, as he led Tennessee to a 20-5 overall record and 12-4 league mark for second place in the Southeastern Conference.

I look back on Davis’ time at Tennessee as the beginning of the modern era of UT basketball.

Last week, Bud Ford, longtime UT sports publicist, said Davis had a lot to do with creating the interest that led to the building of Stokely Athletics Center and getting the Tennessee basketball program rolling.

Davis reportedly was one of the most sought after prep basketball players to ever play in Tennessee and legendary Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp made a trip to Rutledge to recruit him. But A.W. wanted to stay close to home.

He was signed by UT basketball coach John Sines and was a freshman in 1961-62. At that time, freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity ball.

In 1962, Tennessee finished 2-12, last place in the SEC, and 4-19 overall, and Sines resigned that April to accept a job outside of coaching. His successor, Ray Mears, inherited Davis, along with Danny Schultz, an outstanding shooter from Middlesboro, Ky, and Hiwassee College.

Mears started turning things around right away. His first team was 13-11 and 6-8 in the SEC.

Howard Bayne, who played like every rebound belonged to him, and Larry McIntosh joined the Vols in 1963-64 and the record improved to 16-8 and 9-5, good for second place in the SEC.

In 1964-65, Ron Widby from Fulton, Austin “Red” Robbins and Jimmy Cornwall were among the sophomore newcomers to join A.W. and Company.

Davis, a two-time All-SEC honoree, averaged 19.6 points and 8.2 rebounds his senior season. He finished with 1,225 points in his UT career, the third highest total in school history at that time.

Sports Information Director Haywood Harris dubbed Davis “The Man with the Golden Arm,” because his play was so graceful and looked almost effortless.

Mears did not have to recruit Davis, but he hired him as an assistant coach, and A.W. was on the Vols’ staff for six seasons. He also joined John Ward as an analyst on Vol Network broadcasts from 1979-82 and regularly attended UT games through the years, sitting close to courtside.

Like Stokely Center, A.W. Davis is now gone but will always have a special place in UT basketball history.

JUST A MINUTE MEN: Tennessee recently announced it would play Massachusetts in football on Nov. 4, 2017. Does that get you excited?

UT also will pay the Minutemen $1 million to fill a home game slot.

I would be much more interested in seeing the Vols host East Tennessee State University, which officially restarts its football program under Coach Carl Torbush, a Knoxville native, in 2015. The Buccaneers’ roster will be sprinkled with many high school standouts from the Knoxville and East Tennessee area, too.

And besides, wouldn’t it be better to pay the million dollars to ETSU?


SIGN ME UP: With all the fuss about quarterback Justin Worley not running the football enough in Tennessee’s zone-read offense, Coach Butch Jones joked last week he was going to conduct a free Media Clinic so media types will better understand how his system works.

My first question:

Coach Jones, Would you still be using the zone-read offense, if Peyton Manning was your quarterback?