ATLANTA -- The epiphany struck Glen "Big Baby" Davis right around this time last year, after LSU was beaten by Alabama-Birmingham in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. He stepped on a scale. The needle jumped and sputtered before finding a home at 345. The reading said a mouthful. Big Baby was eating away all his promise, a realization that immediately began eating away at him.
Enough, Davis vowed. He could either be remembered as a wasted talent, a player who never pursued his potential, or he could get down to chiseling the extra pounds off his 6-foot-9 frame. Maintain the current course, and people would point to him as an example of opportunity squandered. It's not the type of immortality the gentle giant from Baton Rouge had in mind.
So Davis got at it, worked himself into shape, embraced the challenge of minding his diet. The pounds melted away. Potential yielded to achievement, and achievement paved the way to stardom. Davis, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year this season as a sophomore, will be an ingredient key to the recipe if the Tigers are to cook up an upset of top-ranked Duke tonight in the Atlanta Regional semifinals in the Georgia Dome.
Don't get the wrong idea. Big Baby remains quite a load, a menacing physical presence with shoulders that spill over state lines. His weight fluctuates between 310 and 320 pounds "depending on what he ate the night before," said Tigers coach John Brady.
More than once Davis has been labeled "Baby Shaq," as peo ple connect the LSU dots. But it's a nickname that irritates him, or at least serves as a reminder he still has a ways to go to satisfy his mission of making a name for himself.
"Shaq is a great player," Davis said. "He's one of the top 50 greatest players that ever played the game. So to be compared to him is -- thank you, I appreciate it. But, me being the guy that I am, I am a competitive guy. I want to have my own stamp of immortality. I can't live forever being known as 'Baby Shaq.' "
He'll know he's arrived when his real nickname, "Big Baby," sticks in the nation's collective mind. He earned the moniker at age 9. Too big to play football with kids his age, Davis was moved into an older division, where he took a beating and complained about it. He was told to stop being a big baby, a label that's followed him ever since.
Davis was a seasonlong force for the Tigers. He averaged a double-double, 18.6 points and 10 rebounds. Eight straight times beginning in early February he posted double figures in points and rebounds, falling two short of the school record for consecutive double-doubles held by Shaquille O'Neal. He single-handedly demolished Iona in the opening round of the NCAAs with 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. He followed up with 21 points and eight boards in the second-round win over Texas A&M. But the statistics provide only a glimpse of Davis' value to LSU.
His most significant contribution might be his bright personality and indefatigable spirit. Brady credits his star's light, infectious air with stabilizing a one-senior team that started 8-5 and pined for leadership. Big Baby showed them the way by keeping them loose.
"He's probably the key to our personality of our team and how it developed over the course of the season," Brady said before providing an example.
"We were playing Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, and Glen has had a terrific first half and he's made several shots in a row, and sometimes when players are scoring pretty easily they tend to take a bad shot or force one. And there was a break in the action -- and Glen walked by me and he said, 'Coach, in the huddle I want you to yell at me for taking a bad shot. So I can't really tell the team what I really want them to do because I keep thinking about the comment that he just shared with me. Right before we broke to go out on the floor, I said, 'Glen, by the way, that was a terrible shot you just took.' He smiled and winked. He said, 'You are right, coach,' and went back on the floor."
The young Tigers, many of them longtime friends from the Baton Rouge area, match up with Duke better than most teams in the country. That's predominantly because Davis has the potential to neutralize Shelden Williams, the Blue Devils 6-9 senior workhorse.
"Shelden Williams is a great player," Davis said. "He's an All-American. Basically I am trying not to get too excited because a guy like me who is kind of low on the radar is licking his chops right now because this is an opportunity to show the world that you can play, that you can compete with the best. I am loving this, you know? This is what you dream of. So I am ready. I am ready for it."
Tonight's the night Davis steps back on the scale, finds out how he balances out against one of the top players in the land. This is why he pushed aside the snacks, turned his back on fat-laden foods.
"My determination to be the best player I can be has grown tremendously," he said. "I fully figured out what I want to do in life and that's perform and play basketball, so it's not a problem anymore. If that's what I have to do to change my bad habits, to be the best player I can be, I am giving up any kind of food you want. I don't want to eat nothing. I'm starving."