Davis finds success, peace in post-Baylor career

Nina Davis plays in a game against the Basket Flames. Photo courtesy of Nina Davis.

By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor

It’s been more than a year since former Baylor standout forward Nina Davis put on her Lady Bears jersey.

From the moment she got to Baylor’s campus in 2013, Davis made an instant impact for the Lady Bears, tallying a career record of 134-15 while making four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, falling one game shy of the Final Four each time.

Davis, who had a knack for scoring, averaged 16.3 points per game over her Baylor career and took a backseat in her senior season for the emergence of center Kalani Brown and then freshman Lauren Cox. She was willing to do whatever was necessary to reach the Final Four.

Senior Dekeiya Cohen, who played alongside Davis for three seasons, said it was her leadership in and outside the locker room and her energy on the court that helped set Davis apart.

“She definitely brought a lot of hustle to the team and a lot of excitement. When she scored the basket, she was known for walking around and hyping the crowd up after a big and one. She brought a lot of energy,” Cohen said. “She was a vocal leader, but she also led by example. On the court, she would give us a hint on what to do and tips on how to do it and even off the court, she would do the same thing. When it came to what the coaches want or school-related, she was a leader.”

But after playing 34 minutes and scoring 18 points, Davis walked off the floor for the final time after a 94-85 overtime loss to Mississippi State in 2017.

“The loss was a tough pill to swallow. You never want to end your career on a loss. Once you let it marinate for a few days, you see the bigger picture and reflect on your career,” Davis said. “We never made a Final Four, but that doesn’t take away from our success. We made it to four Elite Eights and there are lots of teams that don’t even make it that far.”

Those losses in the Elite Eight do not define Davis. The loss to Mississippi State in 2017 marked the end of one journey and the beginning of her next one.

But it wasn’t necessarily the way she saw it playing out in her mind and in the dreams she had growing up in Memphis, Tenn.

Davis watched her two teammates, guards Alexis Prince and Alexis Jones, both get drafted, Prince by the Phoenix Mercury and Jones to the Minnesota Lynx. Surrounded by a small contingency of friends and family, she didn’t get the phone call she had wanted her entire life.

“As a kid, that’s the day you wait for. You always want to play in the WNBA. It’s crazy, it’s still a blur to me,” Davis said. “I remember both of the Alexises get drafted and see their dreams come true. But I didn’t see it coming and no one warned me.”

But as the draft window closed up, it wasn’t long after that Prince received a different phone call — one from the Los Angeles Sparks, defending WNBA champions. It was a chance to reunite with former teammate Odyssey Sims.

Nina appeared in the Sparks’ first two preseason games, scoring five points in each in just a few minutes of action, displaying parts of her scorer’s mentality.

Despite positive contributions to the Sparks, Davis was cut heading into the final pre-season game.

“I knew making the LA Sparks was going to be a tough challenge,” Davis said. “But it all worked out.”

It didn’t take long for Davis to get back on her feet and back on an airplane in anxious anticipation of her next destination and next opportunity to go out and do what she loves to do.

That opportunity was in Austria playing for the Flying Foxes, where she was one of two Americans on the team. The expectations were high, perhaps even higher than at Baylor.

“There might be more pressure since money is involved. You pretty much play 40 minutes a game. There’s no such thing as being tired. They expected us to be the best out there and to carry a team,” Davis said.

These expectations were nothing new for Davis, having played at Baylor for head coach Kim Mulkey. But it didn’t mean there wouldn’t be a time of adjustment for Davis, not only to a brand new culture, but a different style of basketball.

“The physicality is definitely different. They no longer know what a foul is,” Davis said. “You play against the top college players, so it was go out and play hard and aggressive and most of the time it will work out for you.”

Davis also credits Mulkey’s consistent message of God, family and basketball for helping her deal with some of the difficult times during her first year.

“Overseas, it gets lonely, but having the relationship with God makes it a little bit easier and leaning on your family when times get hard,” Davis said. “Basketball is a game at the end of the day. [Mulkey] tells us to give our best and being around her, her passion and fiery ways rubbed off on me.”

Much like Davis did while at Baylor, Davis and the Flying Foxes knew how to win games on the court.

The Flying Foxes, of the Austria Women’s Basketball League (AWBL), went 13-0 to capture the regular season championship.

In a format similar to the WNBA and much different from her experience in the NCAA Tournament, Davis and the Flying Foxes won a best-of-three series in the semi-final round and a best-of-five series in the championship round, going 5-0 throughout their playoff run.

“It gives you a little bit of a cushion because you’re not one and done,” Davis said. “But it’s harder in best out of five. It was my first experience playing a team back-to-back-to-back and at that point, everyone knows all your plays. If you lose, there is a tomorrow, but they know you so well, it makes it harder.”

Even though she has been halfway across the world, Davis hasn’t lost touch with her Baylor roots and her former teammates, as the Lady Bears have quite a pipeline to successful professional basketball overseas. Davis said she has kept in touch with both Alexis Prince, who has been playing in Spain and Khadijah Cave in Switzerland.

Six other former Baylor standouts are still playing overseas: Brittney Griner in Russia, Alexis Jones in Spain, Bernice Mosby and Odyssey Sims are both in Turkey while Destiny Williams and Kristina Higgins both play for teams in Romania.

Davis made sure she watched her Lady Bears every time she had the opportunity to, adding how hard it was to watch them have to deal with so many injuries this season, especially to senior guard Kristy Wallace and sophomore guard Natalie Chou.

“I hate it for them. This team had a lot of talent and those injuries definitely hurt them,” Davis said. “You never know if it doesn’t happen. It wasn’t in the cards for them.”

She does, however, believe that both Wallace and Cohen have professional futures should they choose to pursue them. But the work toward finding the best situation has already started.

Cohen, who is in the process of pursuing her next step at the professional level, said Davis and Cave have both been helpful in pointing her in the right direction.

“I’m trying to decide on agents. She has definitely been helping me go through that and KayKay (Cave) as well. Whatever I’ve needed, they’ve been there for me,” Cohen said. “I did a combine and I’m waiting for a phone call to see if anyone wants to pick me up or anything, just to hear any feedback. It’s a waiting game at this point, but eventually I’m going to go overseas regardless.”

With one professional year in the books, Davis is ready to take it easy, enjoy her time out and let the cards fall where they may when it comes to her basketball future.

“I’m pretty at peace with everything. My agent is working on WNBA contracts, but if it doesn’t work out, it’s not something I’m pressed about,” Davis said. “I’m going to try to relax a bit and enjoy some free time with family and friends and see what comes up next for me.”