In a 2021 college basketball season with game averages of seven points, four rebounds and one assist, the buzz surrounding rising Wisconsin sophomore guard Johnny Davis was limited. With four starters from last season out of the picture, Davis was expected to combine Brad Davison and Tyler Wahl offensively to earn more minutes. But experts anticipated a weaker-than-usual Badgers team, with questions about who could carry the offensive load. Despite the doubts, the world of sports is a place where just about anything can happen.

And Johnny Davis is happening right before our eyes.

Now averaging over 20 points and eight rebounds a game, Davis is a favorite for the Wooden Award for National Player of the Year. His elite play and ability to score at will have propelled the Badgers to be a consistently ranked team, with stand-out road wins over Big Ten foes Purdue, Michigan State and Indiana. In the biggest game of the season against Purdue, Davis showcased his ability to take over a game and absolutely dominate. Scoring 37 points against one of the top ranked teams in the country, he proved in that moment he belongs in the Wooden Award conversation.

Davis has three 30-point games on the season and seems to show up in the biggest moments. Along with his memorable performance at Purdue, Davis scored 30 against both Houston and Indiana — both important games away from the Kohl Center.

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Through his elite play, Davis has shown he’s a far cry from the player he was just a year ago. But how did this transition happen so fast?

Over the summer following the 2021 season, Davis was selected as a member of the USA FIBA U19 World Cup roster. The US team eventually went on to defeat France in the final and Davis earned a gold medal. With the experience gained from playing every day alongside up-and-coming stars such as Jaden Ivey and Chet Holmgren, Davis was able to take his game to the next level.

Now, Davis takes the court with a confidence and swagger that is unmatched. Mentally, he’s a much more developed player than he was a year ago, thanks to his experience and hard work over the offseason. Davis’ killer instinct and determination to win have helped elevate this Badgers team far above and beyond expectations.

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He’s always been an efficient player, but the increase in volume and change in mentality is what’s really allowed him to shine. Averaging 35 minutes per game, coach Greg Gard makes it clear the team runs through Davis — and for good reason. He now has arguably the most well-rounded game in all of college basketball, being a lethal scoring guard who can grab boards over bigger opponents and provide lockdown defense on the other side of the floor.

Davis knows his role within the team and looks for open teammates when he’s getting pressured. With that, he knows when push comes to shove, he’s the guy the Badgers want taking shots in the big moments. Coming into the season, Coach Gard had faith Davis could be the Badgers’ go-to guy, and putting the sophomore in that position ultimately pushed him to becoming one of the top players in college basketball.

It’s rare to see a college basketball player evolve from a sixth man into a probable lottery pick in the NBA draft. For Johnny Davis, all it took was an off-season full of hard work and valuable experience — along with a coach who believed in his talent and leadership. At this point, there’s no ceiling when it comes to his potential, and the Badgers will go as far as Davis can take them.