Last week after practice, Lake Dallas girls coach Jonathan Lee wondered whether senior center Taylor Davis had left school already, and he knew exactly where to look.
Lee walked past the school’s main gym, scanned the parking lot and spotted Davis’ baby blue and silver bicycle tied to a post.
Lee turned around and found Davis, who hadn’t left. Lee and the rest of the Lady Falcons figured out it’s going to take a lot to chase Davis away from the program.
When she was a junior, Lee told Davis that she was not good enough to make one of Lake Dallas’ teams.
“I would say probably 99 out of a hundred kids would say that was the end of the road for them,” Lee said. “And Taylor is that one in a hundred — maybe one in a thousand — that used it to fuel her and didn’t make excuses.”
As a senior, Davis is starting for the Lady Falcons (7-14, 3-7 District 5-4A) and has become one of the team’s best players.
Davis averages 9.2 points and 10 rebounds per game, both team highs. Her production is incredible for a player who wasn’t good enough to ride the bench a year ago.
At the end of Lake Dallas’ tryouts for the 2012-13 season, Lee, then a first-year head coach, sat down with Davis and broke the news others in the gym knew was coming.
For the first time since she’d been playing, the lanky 6-footer was not going to make a basketball team. Lee said he doesn’t keep many juniors on the junior varsity team and Davis was not going to be retained.
Davis began crying after the news was delivered. She said she was crushed. But Lee didn’t want Davis gone completely.
“We knew how much she loved the game — she’s a great kid, love her to death — and we wanted to keep her in the program somehow because we knew how much she loved basketball,” Lee said. “That’s when we asked her if she wanted to stay on as a manager, and she immediately asked if she could try out again next year.”
Davis agreed to work the clock during practice and bring out basketballs. On game day, she got the players’ bags ready and was sure to have extra uniforms in case somebody’s jersey got a little bloody. Instead of sitting on the bench, she climbed the bleachers and filmed the games.
It was all preparation for her senior-year comeback.
“I knew I was going to come back and try out again this year, and so I wanted to sit in here and learn and try to build chemistry with my teammates,” Davis said.
Tim Pringle, Davis’ uncle, heard what was going on and told Davis to join him for the summer in Huntsville, Ala. Pringle, 51, has coached an Amateur Athletic Union team for the last seven years. “Uncle Tim” was prepared for Davis’ summer arrival.
Along with working with Pringle, Davis also went to a coaching clinic on a regular basis, played against boys her age and was in a strength and conditioning program.
But what needed the most work was her shot. By all accounts, including Davis’, she had an unflattering shot, so she spent the summer shooting for at least an hour a day, in addition to the rest of her training.
“When she got down here, her shot was terrible,” Pringle said. “I told her, ‘You’re going to have to start from scratch.’”
Pringle started with the basics — one hand behind the ball, the other behind the back. He said she never learned the technique and concept of shooting. Davis is relatively quiet and pleasant, something Pringle also needed Davis to change on the court.
“We had to teach her not to be so nice,” Pringle said. “She was extremely nice, and we had to tell her basketball is a physical game and teach her to be physical, and let her know it was all right to do certain things.”
She made it back to Lake Dallas just in time for the final open gym of the summer. The Lake Dallas head coach stepped into the gym and saw a player shooting on a side goal. It was a smooth, beautiful shot for a center.
The center was his old manager. Sophomore guard Ashley Hayes said she’s probably the team’s best player now. Despite struggling against Denton on Tuesday night, Davis has racked up three performances of at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in her last four games. She has five double-doubles this season.
“She had improved amazingly,” Hayes said. “She came back stronger than ever. I’ve never seen such an improvement on a person, and she’s a great teammate to have. I’m truly blessed to have her as a teammate.”
Lee said that while the team played in the fall, Davis was pushing herself more than some of the players who were already on the team. Davis, Lee said, displayed a hunger that she wanted to be there, one of the reasons she rode her bike to practice despite the weather and used something that was taken away from her as fuel to come back stronger for her senior year.
One day, after practice, all the work Davis did since she was cut as a junior was rewarded. Lee pulled Davis aside and let her know she made the team.
“I was so happy, I could not stop smiling,” Davis said. “It was the best day ever.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869.