By Shehan Jeyarajah
Lady Bears head coach Kim Mulkey admits she did not have a complete idea of how her team would do this season.
With only one returning starter and the majority of the current team being freshmen, Mulkey knew she needed a couple of players to step up for the team, regardless of their age or experience.
Perhaps none of Mulkey’s young players have fulfilled that need better than freshman forward Nina Davis.
The Memphis, Tenn., native has had an outstanding season thus far, surprising her teammates and even the coaching staff with her consistent contribution to the team night after night.
There is something about Davis that sets her apart from the other freshmen.
At times, Davis looks like she has played in the Big 12 for years, and her confidence has grown with experience as the season has progressed.
Davis has had seven-straight double-double games this season and four Big 12 Freshman of the Week awards.
These notable achievements establish Davis as one of the Big 12’s new stars.
However, there’s more to her game than awards and national recognition.
In her first year at Baylor, Davis has already seen the fruits of her labor on the court.
Davis has grown under the wing of one of the greatest guards in women’s college basketball today, senior guard Odyssey Sims.
So far, Davis said she has learned immensely from Sims in several aspects on and off the court.
“You can take a lot from her,” Davis said. “Being an All-American, she’s been here and done it. So for this year being my first time around, I can sit back and learn from her leadership skills, how hard she’s playing, and how she’s growing up also.”
Before coming to the team, Sims seemed like a self-centered player on the outside to Davis, but she said her opinion about Sims changed when she started playing with her, and was pleased to learn great things about Sims’ character.
“I can’t really say it’s something that surprised me,” Davis said. “Coming out of high school, most people think that All-American players like her think they’re above the world, but that’s different with her because of how down-to-earth she is.”
Davis is now one of Mulkey’s go-to players and has consistently started each game in the later portion of the season.
The Lady Bears started this season quietly, playing unranked teams, at home and not on national television before they reached where they are today.
“I think that we have protected the youth on this team by the schedule that we put in place,” Mulkey said.
Mulkey knew her team was young, and deliberately tried to nurture the younger players by gradually facing tougher opponents, leading up to two of the Lady Bears’ biggest games, against Kentucky and top-ranked Connecticut.
Against those two top teams, Mulkey saw great things, not just in Davis, but in the rest of her team.
“When you play the best, it gives you a gauge of how good you are, and maybe give you a goal that you might not have had because you just didn’t know how good we could be,” Mulkey said.
Davis said her performance this season has boosted her confidence. At 5-foot-11, Mulkey jokingly calls Davis “midget” height, against teams with a significant size advantage, Davis’ ability to rebound is a point of focus for her going into every game.
“I have to say, after every game that I keep getting more rebounds, I keep gaining more confidence,” Davis said. “When I was little, I used to always say, ‘I may be 5-foot-11, but I have the soul of someone who’s 6-foot-4.’ I just try to keep that attitude and play like that every game.”
Davis averages 8.8 rebounds and 13.8 points per game, second in both categories on the team this season.
Mulkey and Sims, the only returning starter, both think the team as a whole has improved by leaps and bounds since the start of the season, and Davis is just a testament to that all-around growth and improvement.
“They’re a lot better than they were four months ago,” Sims said. “They steadily impress me every day, every game.”
Because of Mulkey’s patience and appropriate application of discipline, mercy and punishment, her young players sped up their own respective growth phases.
Davis is a prime example of why the Lady Bears are continually contenders year in and year out.