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Davis’ move to Stillwater provides an environment the former Pig needs most

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – As of yesterday, former Arkansas guard Davonte Davis is headed to Oklahoma State.

For a young man in need of a fresh start with as few distractions as possible, there is no better place he could have gone. There may not be a Division I college town on the planet with as few distractions as Stillwater, Oklahoma.

For anyone who’s ever been there, the list stops at three things Davis needs to do in addition to spending every available hour in a basketball gym working on his game. And just to be clear, it’s rolling out in this specific order:

1. Sign up early to sit on the upper deck at Eskimo Joe’s. Try to time it preferably when the football stadium is lit up so there is something to watch while you wait, and make sure you take a stocked Mojo with you along the way to keep on the desk.

2. Stop by the vet school barn and see all the crazy contraptions they put farm animals in, especially at a time when students are trying to load them into them.

3. Get some friends together, tear down the goal post at Boone Pickens Stadium, and have a competition to see which members of the group can fit the whole thing into the small pond in the middle of campus.

When helping my daughter consider various quality vet programs, OSU popped up on the radar as a place to consider. During the study, we picked the brain of a young man who worked at a nearby college athletic department and received his bachelor’s degree there.

“Are you sure you want to go there?” he asked. “It’s a good vet school, but you really have to love the school. Stillwater is there because of OSU, not the other way around. It’s different. Kind of an acquired taste. You’ll understand when you get there.”

After a quick stop in Oklahoma, we started the drive to Stillwater, thinking it would be a nice little interstate cruise from one college hub to another. Nothing could be further from the truth. The highway quickly disappears and it becomes a small two-lane highway with rolling plains of nothingness.

After driving about 500 miles on this highway, a sign on the left pointed to Stillwater, which was just a few miles away. We stopped and checked the map again as there was nothing nearby at this intersection and no sign of a town in the distance. Plus, the road felt like the paved country roads you often see in Arkansas, which lead to a small community church and enough houses for the forty or so people who attend that church to live every few miles.

In the end, Stillwater just happened and it wasn’t nearly the harrowing experience you might think. There was no oasis in a college town hidden above the hill at the back of a cow pasture. Instead, it was a lot like driving into just about any town in South Arkansas, just spread out a little further.

For reference, Warren, Monticello, Star City or Hope will do, although for Hope you have to imagine the highway doesn’t run through the middle of them. Now take everything outside the center of each of these towns, all the houses and small shops housed in what may have once been an ice skating rink, arcade, video store or old Tastee Freez, and copy and paste it a few times to create the area that extending from the center slightly wider.

Take down the streamer-shaped Santas and candles still hanging on the light poles from Christmas, then slide an Arby’s on one side of town and a Cane’s chicken on the other, and that’s it. That’s Stillwater.

These places are beautiful areas to grow up. I happened to grow up in it and have no regrets. But at no point did my friends start looking around and saying, “You know what? If someone would just drop a huge, well-funded university from where the post office is to where the old high school was and give it A football stadium bigger than our downtown would make perfect sense here in our city with three traffic lights where only one is needed.”

It’s the strangest thing. Oklahoma State was supposed to be the Southern Arkansas University of the Sooner State, but it was put on steroids because of Pickens. And honestly, Magnolia has more to offer, so get started generating a billionaire who needs a good reason to spend money, and maybe the Muleriders can claw their way into the next super conference.

People often ask why Warren produces so many Division I college athletes and NFL players, compared to how few people live in the small South Arkansas town that happens to wear orange and black, just like OSU. It’s because of the strong work ethic instilled by the community and the lack of anything to do for entertainment other than working out all day and night.

It’s the perfect breeding ground for those guys. That also seems to explain why Oklahoma State often overachieves in football, baseball and basketball. There is nothing left to do but play football with the boys or go to the gym.

All the trappings of Fayetteville, along with the ability to get in the car and drive back home to the Little Rock area, are no longer there for Davis. After about the third time there, the cool factor of Eskimo Joe’s disappears and it becomes just another place with an expensive burger and new t-shirts.

If Davis wants to find himself again and prove he’s the man who put a team on his back and get past No. 1 Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, Stillwater is the place. It’s just him and the gym.

That’s all he ever needed as a child. There was no NIL, nor waves of overreactions coming his way on social media. It was just a young man, a basketball and a metal hoop to shoot him through.

If that’s all he needs to find himself again, then the coming year should be a time of great discovery and a renewal of the passion that may have faded under the relentless pressure of Eric Musselman and a demanding fan base.

There’s nothing else to do in Stillwater other than get great again. There’s even a chance he’ll prove to his old team how effective the restart has proven to be during the tournament.

And when he does, Kentucky, I mean Arkansas, will be waiting to meet him.

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