LOSING, Sterling Davis reveals, hurts beyond belief. The personal angst, the torturous inquest, the darkness shrouding his demeanour that not even a giggle from his baby daughter can illuminate.
“I think it’s getting worse,” Glasgow Rocks’ player-coach of the past seven years says. “I’m not able to just leave it behind when I walk out of the gym. It lingers. For three or four days sometimes, at home, into practice, it hangs around.”
There have been, the American knows, as many bad days as good for a club that have finished runners-up eight times since claiming the lone trophy in its 17-year existence. Ever the bridesmaids, Davis takes his team into today’s BBL Cup final in Birmingham against Newcastle Eagles knowing current form suggests his Sunday evening will not be spent in his happy place.
The burden, you suspect, must be enhanced by his double life as both the man in charge and as one of those accountable on the court. “It never gets easier, being player-coach,” the 36-year-old Texan says. “To say I’ve mastered it would be way off-base. I’ve learnt to be numb to some things, just because I know what my role and responsibilities are. And where one is me as a player and one is me as a coach, I have to separate them and make them happen.”
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Watching the Rocks go through their paces at the Emirates Arena last week is to understand the complexity of his role. Barking instructions in a code designed to be inscrutable, he must then insert himself into the fray while retaining a detached overview. The demands on his time do not end there.
Daily duties within Scotland’s only franchise in the British Basketball League encompass a relentless schedule of school visits and community outreach tours, with Davis not exempt from duty. “It’s part of what we have to do,” he says.
Yet for all the spin-offs and the positive press, it also denies his players the rest and recuperation – or the additional practice time – which come as standard at the higher levels of the sport. “It can be challenging for the guys who haven’t done it before, to keep them motivated through the season to understand what we need to do on the floor, but also off it,” he adds.
“I’ve come to understand what it achieves and also how very important it is for what we do. Not only financially but also to keep a good place in the community. It definitely attracts a crowd. We go into schools, maybe somewhere new, and that allows us to invite them to come to games. It’s made permanent fans, ones that will stay around longer, whether it’s the kids or their parents. That’s a big plus. But if you arrive here from college or from a different league, it can be new and it can be a challenge.” For this afternoon at least, the collective focus will be entirely upon Newcastle. Seemingly omnipotent, the Eagles – with the richest tradition of winning in domestic basketball – will be expected to engage cruise control and roll by. “You need to stay in the grind, you need to stay within reach because if they expand that lead, it’s so hard to get it back,” Davis admits. “You have to take their punches, fight through any adversity, and try to give yourself a chance.”
With his contract up come the summer, it might even be now or never to ease the pain. “It would mean a lot, no question,” Davis says. “I’ve been doing this for a while and I’m still seeking that first piece of silverware.”
Today: BBL Cup final. Glasgow Rocks v Newcastle Eagles (NIA, Birmingham, 3.30)
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