CLEVELAND — For years the only question surrounding Jarvis Davenport in the basketball community, was when, not if, he would become a head coach.
The longtime assistant spent time on the bench next to retired East Hall legends like Seth Vining and Allen Pritchett (where he was part of state title runs for both the girls and boys teams) and then current Vikings boys coach Joe Dix. And all three talked glowingly of his work ethic and knowledge of the game.
So when the call finally came from nearby White County to take over its girls program in 2016, Davenport jumped at the chance -- even if it wasn’t that far of a physical leap.
“I live in White County and have friends there, and they, and other people, were telling me the job was opening. So I applied, got an interview, and then they offered me the job,” he said.
So what took so long?
“I don’t know. I probably wasn’t as aggressive maybe about looking for opportunities, but I also didn’t get a lot of interest because I think people thought I was waiting for Joe (Dix) to step down at some point,” Davenport explained. “But things happen for a reason, and I feel like I’m right where I need and want to be at this moment.”
After a finding-their-way first season for both Davenport and the Lady Warriors program in 2016-17 -- 6-18 overall finish, 1-7 in Region 7-AAAA, and no playoff berth -- Davenport and the Lady Warriors already can lay claim as perhaps the most improved team in the northeast Georgia area in 2017-18. They currently own a 9-8 overall record, despite a current four-game losing streak, and sit right in the middle of the early Region 7-AAAA race ata 1-1 so far.
The Lady Warriors resemble the up-tempo styles that Davenport was a part of building at East Hall under Vining and Dix. But he said you will also see at times the more methodical approach of half-court sets and tough defense that was a staple of Pritchett’s 2007 Lady Vikings’ state title team.
“I’ve seen and been a part of a lot of different styles,” Davenport said. “I don’t really coach to a style. I try to fit a style with the personnel of the team. This group has a lot of quickness, and we have a lot of shooters and they really fit the up-tempo style more. But we can slow it down if we need to. We just try to do whatever we need to to get wins.”
Wins were tough to come by last season as Davenport got to know the program, and vise-versa. But once they reassembled for the 2017-18 campaign, the Lady Warriors adopted a new slogan: “It’s not about me.”
And Davenport is the first to say it’s not about him as he talks about his current squad.
“We adopted that to show that you can’t win by yourself. The coach can’t do things by him or herself,” he stated. “Wins, especially in a team sport, are about teams coming together and playing for the same common goal. This group is more together this year. They are starting to vocalize to each other on the court what they need to do. That has been a big step for us.”
Davenport said senior post Rachel Gearing has embodied the motto and the young squad, which features nine freshmen and sophomores, is taking her lead. Gearing averages just 3.7 points per game but leads the team in rebounding at 8.0 per game.
“She is all about the team and isn’t worried about her stats. She just wants to win,” Davenport said. “Rachel is a defensive terror and a huge presence on the floor for us. Her role is crucial and the other players really respond to her. Her attitude and work ethic has been a driving force behind our success, and the younger girls are feeding off that.”
Freshman point guard Dasha Cannon leads the team in scoring at 15 ppg to go with 3.5 assists and 3.0 steals a game. Sophomore Naomi Crumley (10.0 ppg, 3-point specialist), senior Kyleigh Johnson (6.0 ppg), and sophomore Madi Phillips (8.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg; two double-doubles on the season) round out the starting group.
“Dasha for a freshman has shown she is ready for this level,” Davenport said. “She’s unselfish and just does whatever it takes to win. She’s a streaky shooter but she can also get to the basket. I think she is really going to be someone to watch as she gets better over the years. We have some older girls with the young girls so it’s a good mix.”
But with any up-tempo team, you’re only as deep as your second-wave. The Lady Warriors have gotten solid minutes and contributions from seniors Mikayla Sullens and Emma Cook, juniors Sakina Wilmont, Rachel Lovell, and Annabeth Vandiver, sophomore Bentley Cronic, and freshman Maddie Futch, who have averaged over 22 ppg as a group.
“The bench is playing much better this year, and I think that has been a big key for our success so far,” Davenport said. “There’s not a lot of drop off when I sub out compared to last year. That’s what we were looking for this year.”
What Davenport also was looking for was heightened expectations coming into this season. Playing in just a five-team region, he knew last season was essentially just one win in the region playoffs from making their first playoff appearance since 2013. But he also knew that one win would be hard to come by, and White County fell to Marist 52-32 in the play-in game.
Changing that attitude has been a top priority coming into this campaign.
“They hadn’t had a lot of success, certainly not in the playoffs, so I knew that was something we were going to have to work on,” he said. “The seniors last year had had three coaches, including myself, in their four years. It’s tough to build continuity with all that going on.
“If your goal is to win the state title, you have to get into the playoffs. We talked in the offseason that our expectations, not just goal, is to make the playoffs.”
The Lady Warriors sit tied for second with West Hall in the region after the first week of play, already matching their entire region win total from last year. However, they are coming off a 70-48 loss to first place Marist (13-2, 2-0) on Tuesday.
They take on Blessed Trinity (4-12, 0-2, 9-game losing streak) on Friday with a chance to set up a showdown for second place with the Lady Spartans next Tuesday in Oakwood.
“Right now we’re just taking things one at a time,” Davenport said. “We just want to keep getting better and be peaking at tournament time. That’s when it really matters.”
But Davenport went on to say they are perhaps eyeing something that no Lady Warriors team has accomplished since 1984.
“That’s the last time the White County girls won a region title,” he said. “First goal is to make the playoffs -- if we can finish in the top three in the regular season, then we would automatically qualify for the playoffs. If we can do that, then we can concentrate on trying to win the region tournament.”
This is when he adopted another slogan.
“The region is pretty even. Marist is tough and is probably the favorite. But we’re still learning and improving and there are a lot of games still out there. We tell the girls anything is possible with hard work.
“Why not us?”
Why not indeed.