Nathan Davis was a junior on the men’s basketball team at Division III Randolph-Macon near Richmond when he asked to speak with his coach, the legendary Hal Nunnally.
An all-conference player with the Yellow Jackets in the 1990s, Davis decided he wanted to pursue a coaching career and asked for Nunnally’s advice.
“He talked about reaching out to people in the business, working camps and networking,” Davis said of Nunnally, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 65.
Davis followed that advice and is part of an impressive coaching tree that belongs to Nunnally, who coached 24 years at Randolph-Macon and had several of his former players and assistant coaches reach the Division I level.
Davis, who grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., has helped further the reach of the Randolph-Macon program out of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC).
He was a Division I assistant under Pat Flannery at Bucknell as the Bison made NCAA appearances out of the Patriot League in 2005 and 2006, with a win over No. 3 seed Kansas in 2005.
Davis was in Ashland, Va., as the Randolph-Macon head coach for six years before he took over the same role at Bucknell prior to the 2015-16 season, after the successful Dave Paulsen assumed the top job at George Mason of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“It was a great opportunity having been here before,” Davis said Tuesday. “I knew what a special place it was. I knew the support we would get from the administration and the community. I knew it was a place to be successful. It is rare you get a job where things” are in a good place.
Davis is one of several products of the Virginia-based ODAC to reach the Division I level as a head coach.
A few of the others in the coaching fraternity include former Randolph-Macon coach Mike Rhoades, a former VCU assistant who is now the head coach at Rice; Army head coach Jimmy Allen, a former player and coach at Emory & Henry; Jamion Christian, a former Emory & Henry assistant who is now the head coach at Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland; Fort Wayne head coach Jon Coffman, a graduate of Washington & Lee and a former Emory & Henry assistant; and Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall, a former player and coach under Nunnally at Randolph-Macon.
“I think the thing it does is you get to learn how to be a head coach,” Davis said of the Division III ranks. “You get to learn how to run a program and deal with different situations on and off the court.”
Davis was a change from the former Bucknell mentor.
“There are so many differences. He is practically a 180(-degree departure) from coach Paulsen," former player Chris Hass said of Davis. "He really likes to push the ball up and down the court. Coach Paulsen was not like that. He (also) has open practices for alumni."
Bucknell was 13-6 overall and 5-1 in the Patriot League before facing Loyola (Md) at home on Wednesday. The Bison host Boston University Saturday on ASN. The Terriers were 5-1 in league play through Tuesday.
“They have a very talented roster,” Davis said of BU. “They have guys who can make shots. They can play around the basket and they are a balanced team.”
The Bison had four players averaging in double figures through Tuesday: junior forward Zach Thomas (15.4 points per contest), junior center Nana Foulland (14.8), sophomore guard Kimbal Mackenzie (10.5) and junior guard Stephen Brown (10.3).
“The thing I like so far is we have a very competitive group that is mentally tough and doesn’t quit,” Davis said. “It is a very close-knit group. They get on each other. They are holding each other to a higher standard. Offensively I would like to play with a little more pace. We have to cut down on careless turnovers. Defensively … when we are locked in and flying around we are pretty good.”
Davis notes Bucknell is part of the academically challenging Patriot League. The team normally practices at 6:30 p.m. and some of his players get out of class at 5 p.m. “That can be mentally taxing in balancing that,” Davis said.
Davis still gets to pick the brain of Flannery, who works in Development and Alumni Relations at Bucknell. His son, Jesse, plays basketball at Division III Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
“He has always been very supportive,” Davis said.
David Driver is a free-lance writer in Cheverly, Maryland. Follow him @DaytonVaDriver.