CLEMSON - It's funny how one gets used to success. It's not nearly as entertaining falling short of the goal.
That's why, just one year removed from the Women's NCAA Tournament, Clemson head coach Jim Davis wants no part of another early offseason. The pickup truck and camper can wait until after mid-March.
"No question," he said, chewing on his signature cigar stub - always unlit. "We want to get back to where we feel we rightly belong."
That, of course, would be the NCAA Tournament.
Heading into the 2002-2003 season, Davis had guided the Lady Tigers to NCAA berths in 14 of his previous 15 seasons as head coach. Clemson and the tournament were almost synonymous. You didn't mention one without mentioning the other.
That all changed a year ago when Davis suffered not only his second season without an NCAA tournament bid, but also lived through the first losing season of his Clemson career (14-15). Included in that finish was a key stretch which saw his Lady Tigers lose eight of 10.
It all added up to an early vacation, though one no one seemed to enjoy.
"When you go to the tournament every year it's still special, but maybe you take it for granted a little," Davis said. "I can tell you that after a year away, I want no more of this being home for March Madness. I want us back in the tournament, where I feel the Clemson Lady Tigers belong."
The road back to the NCAAs hasn't been easy. In fact, it's been the proverbial roller coaster.
The 2003-2004 Lady Tigers started the year on fire, winning 11 of their first 12 games. After treading water for a time, Davis' team hit another major slump. This time it was five losses in a row, a stretch which saw a pair of old internal foes jump up and bite the players.
"Rebound and be aggressive," Davis said. "For a while there we did neither, and you see the results."
It got so bad after one of the losses that Davis told the press, in effect, that if he couldn't get his team motivated to play then perhaps Clemson needed a new basketball coach. The next morning one local newspaper took his comments overboard, suggesting in a headline that Davis was contemplating stepping down.
"I plan on being at Clemson for a long, long time," he said with a laugh. "You get frustrated and say things, but what I meant to get across was that I was going to work even harder to motivate these young ladies to play harder. I'd find a way to get through to them.
"I woke up the next morning and saw that newspaper headline and just said 'Oh my goodness!'"
Fortunately for Davis Clemson has rallied to win two straight games. And with two games to go in the regular season - Friday at No. 4 Duke and home Sunday for Maryland - Davis figures his squad, at 17-8 overall and 7-7 in the ACC, needs a split to guarantee a return to the NCAA Tournament.
"Otherwise you put it in the hands of a group of people who go behind closed doors and call themselves a committee," he said. "We'd rather take care of matters ourselves."