None of the typical reasons applied to Marcel Davis when he sought to transfer from Utah State to Utah Valley University following the end of his sophomore season. Davis was not seeking a larger role or more playing time. He was not having conflicts with coaches or teammates.
His transfer to UVU was driven by a higher purpose.
Davis sought to return home to Utah County so he could take a more active role in caring for his autistic younger brother Matteo. It has become a full-time job for his parents because of a series of health complications following an accident with a gas stove a few years ago that left Matteo Davis with burns covering more than 80 percent of his body.
Multiple skin graft surgeries have meant extended hospital stays. The most recent surgeries for Matteo caused nerve damage in his right leg. He lost use of that leg following the surgery.
Utah State wasted no time in granting Davis a release after the 2013-14 season and helped Davis successfully appeal to the NCAA for a family medical hardship waiver so he would not have to sit out this season.
“Once I told them about my brother and what was going on, the athletic director Scott Barnes was really helpful,” Davis said. “He gave me a call right after I talked to him about it and just explained that they were going to do everything they could to help with the transfer process and if I ever needed anything to give him a call. They actually wrote a letter to help me appeal so I didn’t have to sit out.”
Davis was not cleared to play this season until the first week of November – just in time for UVU’s season opener against South Dakota. The former American Fork High School standout has already had a significant impact for the Wolverines, who graduated their starting backcourt from a season ago.
Two months into the 2014-15 season, the junior guard has started 13 of 15 games and is averaging 7.6 points per game while shooting 37 percent from the field. He is also chipping in 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest.
UVU has needed Davis as much as he needed the Wolverines.
“It’s very difficult to start a new backcourt,” UVU coach Dick Hunsaker said. “Really, we don’t have any experience in the program in the backcourt. So it’s a big deal to us. It’s been very fortunate to have him. He’s really filled a big void for us in that regard with leadership and having a true lead guard.”
A bigger prize for Davis is no longer spending all of his nights far away from home worrying about his brother’s condition. His hometown is a short drive from Orem and Davis can be there to help out when needed. Sometimes, he takes turns watching Matteo while his parents work. Other times, he drops by to take his brother out for pizza or to do a fun activity with him.
Worrying about Matteo’s health impacted on how Davis’ career at Utah State progressed. Davis started all but six games during his freshman season. He averaged 7.1 points and a team-high 3.3 assists while playing 27.3 minutes per game. During his sophomore season, however, Davis lost his starting job and averaged just 3.5 points and 2.7 assists in 17.0 minutes per game for the Aggies.
Despite his early success at Utah State, Davis says it was difficult being two hours away from home.
“Last year, he was in the hospital for a long time because he had a surgery and he just wasn’t breathing right,” Davis said. “He needed an oxygen tank. He just wasn’t feeling good. He was getting infections. It was hard being up there and not knowing how my brother was doing. Is he going to make it through the day or not? Just being down here, I get to see him at least once, twice or three times a week. I can go there any day basically.”
The UVU coaching staff does its part to make life easier for Davis. He has standing permission to leave a practice early if emergency situations with Matteo arise. It gives Davis peace of mind, knowing he can play basketball and still tend to a brother who needs him.
One other benefit he gets from playing for the Wolverines is taking the court and seeing Matteo in the UCCU Center stands watch him play. It offers a bigger motivational boost to do his best than anything else ever could.
“He’s been to all the games,” Davis said. “Being back here, having my whole family here and being able to play in front of them is really special. Family means everything to me. Just seeing them there supporting me, means the world to me.”
Cover photo by Shane Truskolaski.