The first game of the 2015-16 year will be Rapheal Davis's 101st game as a Purdue Boilermaker, and it's hard to calculate which is more impressive: the things he's improved, or the things that have stayed the same since his freshman year.
In his first two years he averaged 18 minutes a game, in this last year he led the team in minutes with 31.3(More than 35 minutes a game in conference play). In his first two years he scored 386 points. His junior year alone he scored 365 points, behind only his fellow senior A. J. Hammons. He did this while shooting 45% from the field and drawing a team leading 141 free throw attempts.
In his first year, he was mostly an unknown, a throw-in in the shadow of the Johnson's, his contributions to the team were not obvious. They did not show up in stat sheets under shot attempts or points per game, but he was almost always in the right place. At 6' 5", and playing just over 18 minutes a game, he averaged almost four rebounds a game, including more than 1 offensive board a game. That's when I first noticed Davis, as a careless ricochet bounced off the backboard and I started to curse another poor shot choice, but there was Davis corralling it in his strong hands and bringing it back up softly off that same backboard and into the rim.
There was a quiet fire brimming underneath that #35. On a team of mostly unlikable, un-Boiler players, he was something to be proud of, to root for, to believe in.
There's a certain sentiment that comes with watching seniors play. You know it's over after this year, that what you had will never be the same, almost like if you started dating someone, but instead of holding to notions of forever, you both agree that on this day, in four years, you'll both part your ways. You'll love each other still, care for and know one another as best as two people can, but no matter how the years went, that's it.
Not to romanticize this whole sports thing, but that's what being a fan is. Romanticizing players and numbers and colors and making memories with them that you build shrines for and argue with about people. You idolize and obsess, share in the misery and happiness of the up and down nature of the day to day trivialities and triumphs. I was meaning to get into the specifics of Davis's accomplishments, and the underrated nature of his offensive game - passing and driving - but those things seem trivial in comparison to the last three years of rooting for someone who seems to embody exactly what Purdue as a school and a fan base want in their student-athletes.
Which is selfish, of course, to think these 18-22 year old kids owe us anything, but that's not what it is. It's a relationship, a partnership. They score and we cheer or in Rapheal's case - he scores, shuts down the opposing team's best player, threads beautiful bounce passes through the defense, and always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Watching his interview, I couldn't agree with him more. It's weird to think this will be his last season playing for us. It's only been four years, but he was the light on a team full of darkness, and now that we're in a better place, he's still here, leading us with his heart and head.
Special players deserve special seasons, and Davis has made himself into one. With a stacked team following his lead, he might just get the season, too.