Davon Usher hitting stride at JUCO in Fla.

With a hobbled Davon Usher plagued by an "irritated herniated disc" in his back, Polk State College limped to a 3-10 start to its 2010-11 men’s basketball campaign.

When the former Digital Harbor wing returned to full strength, the Vikings’ fortunes changed dramatically.

“What happened was after Christmas, when he became healthy, we’re 14-3 since,” said Polk State coach Matt Furjanic. “So I guarantee you a lot of that happened because he’s healthy now and doing a great job for us.”

A 2010 Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro selection, Usher had planned on spending his college career at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. But when the 6-foot-6 prospect couldn’t get through the NCAA Clearinghouse, junior college became his best option. Furjanic said he found out about Usher’s availability thanks to some college coaches here in Baltimore.

“We’re lucky to have him. We’re really lucky,” Furjanic said. “The assistant coaches at Towson are good friends of ours. They told us about him in the summer. He wasn’t getting the grades. Corpus-Christi backed off when he didn’t get through the clearinghouse. So the coaches from Towson called us and said, ‘Listen, you’ve got to look at this kid. He can really play.’ We signed him [in] like July.”Furjanic had high hopes for Usher once he arrived on the Lakeland, Fla., campus, but the back issues popped up “around the middle of November.” Usher was extremely limited in practice. During games, he would either play sparingly or sit out altogether. Over the holiday break, Usher returned to Baltimore under doctors orders to rest. He returned to Florida improved, and with a more aggressive rehab program, was back to full strength by the middle of January.

“When he got healthy, he was just a big key for us coming off the bench,” Furjanic said. “He plays three different positions. He plays mostly outside for us. He can just attack the rim for offensive rebounds. He does all the little things that are necessary.”

In his role as Polk State’s sixth man, Usher has averaged nine points and 5.5 rebounds in Sun Coast Conference play. He’s the Vikings’ third-leading scorer, and was a second-team all-conference selection. Usher will lead his team into the Florida state junior college tournament this week, starting with a matchup against Marianna on Thursday. Furjanic is counting on Usher to provide a scoring punch off the bench.

“His strength right now is his intensity, the way he plays,” Furjanic said. “He’s an average outside shooter, but he can take the ball to the basket and finish. He’s a good offensive rebounder. But he just plays so hard. And that was frustrating when he had the back problems. It just limited him on what he can do. But now that he’s healthy, with the intensity level that he plays with, offensively and defensively, I mean he’s a winner. That’s probably the best way I can explain it.”

Recruiting doesn’t really get started for junior-college players until their sophomore year, but Furjanic said North Florida and Stetson have already expressed interest in Usher. There’s also a hometown school that remains on Usher’s mind.

“Right now, he really likes Pat Kennedy at Towson,” Furjanic said. “Towson’s been in contact with him. He really likes Pat Kennedy a lot. I know he would have a big interest in coming back home. He mentioned how excited he would be after having two years away, he could come back to Baltimore. So I know Towson has shown interest. They haven’t offered yet. That’s probably the one school he’s really excited about.”

Furjanic said Usher is “doing great in the classroom,” earning better than a 3.0 grade-point average during his first semester. Usher will continue to play a major part for the Vikings this season, and Furjanic expects him to have an expanded role as a sophomore.

“With a good offseason program coming back next year, he’s just going to take off,” Furjanic said. “He plays so hard, is so coachable and does everything you ask of him. You tell him something, he responds. He’s going to do what you want him to do as a player. … He’s just a great kid. We’re just really excited about him and excited about his future."

Photo of Davon Usher courtesy of Polk State College.

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