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‘Make ’em Believe’: After going undrafted, Terence Davis is ready to prove himself in Toronto

When Terence Davis stepped on the floor Thursday evening to make his Raptors’ debut at Summer League he had one goal in mind, a goal that has steered him on this unlikely journey towards the NBA. Make them believe.

Following in the footsteps of Norman Powell’s ‘understand the grind’ personal branding, and more closely, Fred VanVleet’s ‘bet on yourself’ phrase that is etched upon his own clothing line, Davis brings a mantra to Toronto that will surely find its way onto a shirt in the near future.

“I’ve got a little saying myself throughout this whole process, it was “make ’em believe.” Throughout the whole process, I kept emphasizing make ’em believe, make them believe, so I guess Toronto really believed in me,” Davis said after Thursday’s game.

It is hard not to believe in Davis now. After his outstanding Summer League opener for the Denver Nuggets on Sunday afternoon in which Davis dropped 22 points in 26 minutes, Toronto had seen enough to sign the guard out of Ole Miss to a two-year deal just hours later. The Raptors confidence in him was so immediate that it even caused Davis to briefly backtrack on the words that he lives by.

“Once I got the call, I just couldn’t believe it at first,” Davis said, ironically. “Like, after one game, I was kinda shocked.”

It isn’t only Davis and VanVleet’s personal mantras that are synonymous. Their draft experiences were also eerily similar. Like VanVleet, Davis turned down multiple offers to sign a two-way contract and ultimately went undrafted in the hopes of earning a full NBA deal. During the process Davis even stumbled across VanVleet’s draft journey three years ago when scrolling through his timeline on Twitter.

“I know the night of the draft, Fred VanVleet, when he had to do the same thing I did on draft night, talk to your family, that video came across twitter and I retweeted it, and ever since then it’s always been in my mind,” said Davis.

“Throughout the draft process, on draft night, I turned down a lot of two-ways. I just told myself that there’s other ways to get through this process and get what you’re worth. I had a saying that if I don’t go through the front door, I’ll go through the back door. There’s some side doors, too. So I think I just went through the back door, man, and got a great deal from a great team and a great organization.”

In his first game as a Raptor, Davis wasn’t quite that subtle. He kicked the front door down, turned on all of the lights, and cranked the stereo up to a blaring volume, letting his presence be known. Davis quickly pushed the ball up the floor and found Dewan Hernandez, his roommate at the G League and NBA draft combines, for an alley-oop lob. He then nailed back-to-back triples and ended his first quarter of action as a Raptor with 10 points, four rebounds, and three assists. Davis would finish the night with a tidy 16/5/5 stat line to go along with a pair of steals and a block.

“We had a connection before this so playing with him felt comfortable,” Hernandez said of Davis. “The way he was playing at the combine, I was like ‘this guy is really good’.”

Not everyone shared Hernandez’ sentiments. Davis was lightly recruited coming out of high school and was more valued as a future football star. However, he ended his gridiron career and opted to play basketball at Ole Miss. Despite a productive four year career, Davis was not even invited to the G League combine until his agent plead for his client to get an opportunity to showcase himself. It isn’t hard to see where the inspiration for his catchphrase came from.

Davis’ overlooked, chip-on-the-shoulder attitude fits perfectly in Toronto. As was widely covered during the playoffs, the Raptors had no lottery picks on their championship winning roster. Proverbial diamonds in the rough have become the backbone of the franchise’s foundation. Now in the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s free agency departure to the glamour of Los Angeles, the fanbase will gravitate even further to players that embody that gritty, underdog persona.

“A lot of underrated guys who are hungry, toughness, and that’s what I bring to the table,” Davis said of Toronto’s current roster. “Whatever role a team gives me, I’m willing to accept the role until I’m able to expand that role. That’s how basketball goes. You’ve already got your guys that are gonna get you 20, 20-plus, or be the playmaker. You need some guys to knock down open shots, guys to be a lockdown defender. Teams need those type of guys and I feel like I can be one of those guys.”

Toronto’s roster overhaul will offer plenty of new roles. Where Davis fits is another matter. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster wasted no time in bringing in young, versatile wings in Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Matt Thomas, and the returning Patrick McCaw. Head coach Nick Nurse will no doubt experiment moving his new chess pieces around the board. Nevertheless, the impression that Davis has made with the Raptors coaching staff in Las Vegas has been immediate.

“What impressed me the most was that there wasn’t just one thing that impressed me the most,” John Goodwillie, head coach of the Raptors at Summer League, said of Davis’ debut. “He’s really comfortable shooting the ball, he’s got really good feet on that back cut in the corner which was nice. He took the challenge of matching up with one of their better offensive players and guarding him, getting into the ball. I just think he’s going to get better the more familiar he gets with our concepts, but a very encouraging debut for sure.”

There aren’t many doubters left in Las Vegas after witnessing Davis’ meteoric rise. Still, that won’t stop him from finding a hater or two to fuel his fire.

“I got a lot more to lose and just a whole bunch more to prove. A lot of people still don’t believe. Gotta just continue to do what I do and make people believe.”

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