Pete Maravich's seemingly unbreakable NCAA career scoring record in jeopardy of being broken

YPSILANTI, MI - DECEMBER 18:  Antoine Davis #0 of the Detroit Mercy Titans is introduced before a college basketball game against the
Antoine Davis of the Detroit Mercy Titans is just 63 points shy of equaling Pete Maravich's all-time NCAA scoring record. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Jaeson Maravich was working out at a gym about a week ago when he found out that one of his dad’s most unassailable records was in jeopardy.

A friend mentioned he’d heard there was a player on the verge of surpassing Pete Maravich’s NCAA record 3,667 career points, a mark that’s stood since 1970.

“I was kind of stunned,” Jaeson told Yahoo Sports. “I actually thought he was joking at first until I went home and looked it up.”

A quick Google search confirmed to Jaeson that his friend wasn’t messing with him. Antoine Davis, a slippery 6-foot-1 guard from off-the-radar Detroit Mercy, has blown past everyone besides Pistol Pete on the Division I college basketball’s all-time scoring list. The son of Detroit Mercy coach Mike Davis has piled up 3,604 points during his five-year college career, 63 shy of equaling a record that previously had gone unthreatened for more than half a century.

Whether the younger Davis can catch Maravich will hinge on how far Detroit Mercy can advance in this week’s Horizon League tournament. If the eighth-seeded Titans make the quarterfinals, Davis would need to average 32 points to break the record, a daunting but not impossible feat for a volume shooter averaging a national-best 28.1 points this season. If Detroit Mercy overachieves and reaches the semifinals, then Davis eclipsing 3,667 goes from possible to probable.

Only a few weeks ago, LeBron James unseated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar atop the NBA’s career scoring list after weeks of fawning hype and fanfare. To say that Davis’ pursuit of Maravich’s college record hasn’t received the same attention is a colossal understatement. Detroit Mercy’s 8,000-seat arena was barely a third full on Saturday afternoon for Davis’ home finale and jersey retirement ceremony. On a day when Michigan State blew a late lead at Iowa, Davis' 34 points weren’t the lead college hoops story in the Detroit market, let alone nationally.

“How is this not getting more attention?” Jaeson wondered aloud last week. “I would’ve thought people would be making a bigger deal of it.”

It has been easy for some to dismiss Davis’ achievement because it has taken him 141 games to approach what Maravich did in 83.

Maravich played at LSU in an era when freshmen weren’t yet varsity-eligible. For three years, he averaged an unfathomable, almost mythic 44.2 points per game despite not having the benefit of a shot clock or 3-point line. Davis has put up 25.3 points per game for a struggling Detroit Mercy program that has posted a losing record in all but one of his five seasons. He has taken advantage of the NCAA waiver granting athletes an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 disruptions.

And yet to discredit Davis because he isn’t the second coming of Maravich is to miss out on what makes his story extraordinary. This little-known wisp of a combo guard has lived out his father’s vision and willed himself into college basketball’s rarest air.

The making of a 6-foot-1, 150-pound outlier

When his son became serious about pursuing basketball more than a decade ago, Mike Davis wasn’t quite sure how to teach the basics of the sport to a grade-school kid. The former head coach at Alabama-Birmingham sought the help of a mustachioed showman known for his array of fall-away jump shots, through-the-legs dribbles and no-look passes.

On weekday afternoons and weekends, Mike had Antoine study a series of instructional videos that Pete Maravich created in the 1980s to teach kids how to dribble, pass and shoot. Antoine would then go out to the driveway of the family’s spacious Birmingham home and emulate the moves that Maravich demonstrated.

“A lot of times people can do things but they can’t teach it,” Mike told Yahoo Sports. “Pete could actually teach it. The way he explained how he did things, it was so simple. You didn’t have to be a basketball coach to understand.”

While Antoine’s pursuit of Maravich’s scoring record didn’t officially start until he first donned a Detroit Mercy jersey five years ago, the truth is that he began chasing basketball immortality long before that. Mike pushed Antoine to treat basketball like a full-time job soon after Texas Southern hired the elder Davis in 2012 and the family relocated to Houston.

Antoine began grueling daily workouts with former NBA coach John Lucas. He developed his arsenal of jab steps, step-backs and crossovers, attempting thousands of shots per day and playing untold possessions of 1-on-1. If Mike heard stories of Kobe Bryant doing a certain drill 100 times, then Antoine would do it 500 times. After all, Kobe was blessed with ideal size, strength and athleticism. Antoine was a 6-foot-1, 150-pound mortal.

Some of Mike’s inspiration came from reading a copy of Carol Dweck’s “Mindset,” which makes the case that success is based on working hard and learning from mistakes rather than from fixed traits like talent or intelligence. Mike believed he could apply those doctrines to helping his pencil-thin son maximize his basketball potential.

“When you look at Antoine, he’s not 6-5 and he’s not 250 pounds,” Davis said. “He’s what every kid looks like playing basketball. I knew that it was up to us to put in the work for him to be a really good college basketball player.”

Just like Maravich joined scrimmages and pickup games with his dad’s NC State players when he was still in high school, Antoine did the same at Texas Southern. Mike still has videos of Antoine running the scout team offense and torching defenders five years older than him with his lightning-quick first step and impossibly deep 3-point range.

Home-schooled in high school, Antoine went overlooked by most college coaches and by all the major recruiting services. Only Houston coach Kelvin Sampson noticed the hometown product, calling him “the best shooter I have seen in this state” in his four years at Houston.

Antoine initially signed with Houston, only to experience a change of heart, following his dad to Detroit Mercy. At the time, the Titans were coming off a 24-loss season and had just a handful of returning players.

That left Mike little choice but to put the ball in his son’s hands and give him free rein from day one. Antoine tallied 32 points in his college debut against Western Michigan. Three nights later, he torched Temple for 30. Detroit Mercy lost 20 times that season, but Antoine led all freshmen in scoring at 26.1 points per game.

The pattern continued year after year as Mike cycled through players trying in vain to assemble a capable supporting cast around his son. The lone constant has been Antoine creating a sliver of space for himself off the dribble or running around screens and shooting from anywhere and everywhere.

Until he entered the transfer portal to explore his options last spring, Antoine insists he never once thought he could chase Maravich’s scoring record. He assumed that was out of reach until he visited BYU and received an unexpected recruiting pitch.

Pistol Pete Maravich (23) gets a boost from players and fans after he broke the all-time scoring record in Baton Rouge Saturday night, Jan. 28, 1979. Calmly looking on at far left center is Pete's dad, Press, who coaches the Louisiana State Tigers. (AP Photo)
'Pistol' Pete Maravich (23) gets a boost from players and fans after he broke the NCAA's all-time scoring record. (AP Photo)

Chasing 3,667

Before Antoine Davis arrived last April, BYU coach Mark Pope had a spiral-bound book made to give to the coveted Detroit Mercy transfer. Each page contained the picture of a college hoops icon and a number signifying how many career points he had scored.

As Antoine and his dad climbed the steps of the Marriott Center during their visit, Pope flipped one by one through the pages of the book. It started with Michael Jordan and other luminaries who Antoine had already surpassed. Then came some players whom Antoine was still chasing.

“At the very end, he had 'Toine with 3,668, one more than Pistol Pete,” Mike Davis recalled.

After the visual demonstration, Pope explained how many points Antoine would have to average and how many games he would have to play to get to 3,668. The message was that he had an outside chance to break the record and that Pope would try to help him do it if he came to BYU.

“That’s when I really took note of it,” Mike Davis said. “Because Pistol Pete, for my generation, is the guy when it comes to scoring the basketball. I was like, ‘Wow, this is really exciting.’”

Antoine heard from some of college basketball’s top teams after he put his name in the transfer portal. In time he narrowed his interest to BYU, Kansas State, Georgetown and Maryland, all programs that had a need for a high-scoring guard. He visited campuses. He toured glittering facilities. He listened to each coaching staff’s vision for how to use him. And then he returned to Detroit Mercy. It didn’t feel right to him to finish his college career anywhere else.

Even so, Pope’s presentation on the steps of the Marriott Center left an impression. For the first time, Antoine thought about what it would be like to outscore the man whose instructional videos he watched as a kid. For the first time, breaking the record became a goal for him, albeit a distant second to making the NCAA tournament.

Though opponents have thrown all sorts of double-teams, traps and junk defenses at Antoine this season, he has increased his scoring average to a career-best 28.1 points without hoisting more shots or committing more turnovers. In November, he passed the likes of JJ Redick and Larry Bird on college basketball’s all-time scoring list. Then he eclipsed guys like Tyler Hansbrough and Oscar Robertson.

By late January, there was no one left between Davis and Maravich.

“It’s crazy to even think that I’m in that kind of company,” Antoine said. “Ten or 11 years ago, I was out there working on [Maravich’s] dribbling drills and his passing and stuff. And now I’m sitting here, a top-two scorer of all time right along with him.”

Entering the Horizon League tournament, Antoine seems genuine when he insists he’s more focused on “winning games than the record.”

“The more games we play, the better chance I have to break it,” he said.

Mike has also done everything he can to ease the pressure on his son and to protect Antoine from critics who say his extra COVID season devalues his achievement. The coach has instilled a mindset in his son that no matter what happens this week, both he and Pistol Pete deserve to be known as record holders.

“I feel like Antoine is the best scorer of this generation and Pistol Pete is the best scorer from his generation,” Mike said.

And yet despite all that talk, it’s clear that the record is meaningful to the Davises. When Mike is asked what it would mean to see his son surpass 3,667, Antoine interrupts and says his dad “might cry” if he’s able to do it.

For Jaeson Maravich, Antoine’s pursuit of the record sparks conflicting emotions. Jaeson views what Antoine achieved in five years and what Pistol Pete did in three as “really an apples and oranges comparison,” but he’s also quick to say he “wouldn’t be bitter at all” if his late father’s scoring record changes hands. He’d be happy to see the hallowed record go to another son of a coach, to someone who grew up watching Pistol Pete’s instructional videos and appreciates his place in college basketball lore.

“I’m proud of all my dad’s records,” Jaeson said. “I’d like them to stand as long as possible. But if he breaks it, I’m certainly not going to hate on this guy. I’ll be happy for him.”