It took some convincing for Fever center Jessica Davenport to agree to start playing basketball.
In sixth grade she was approached by the coach, who said since she was tall, about six-feet, she wanted her to play. Initially Davenport hesitated, but decided to play on the seventh grade team, because her friends were there.
“It took a little convincing, but once I did it, it was fun,” said Davenport, who now stands six-feet, five inches tall. “Going out there and playing with my friends, they had to teach me a lot. I didn’t know how to set screens or any of the terminology, so they helped me with that.”
After a college career at Ohio State in which she became only the 20th player to earn three All-America honors and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 WNBA Draft, it appears she made a good decision.
Davenport, however, has gone through adjustments and struggles to get to where she is today.
After growing up in Columbus, Ohio and going to college 15 minutes from home, Davenport moved more than 500 miles away to start her professional career with the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
“It was an adjustment, not having my family right there with me,” Davenport said. “They were always a plane flight away, so they would visit and see some of the games.”
In her first season with the Liberty, Davenport played in 33 of the team’s 34 games and averaged 5.3 points a game while leading all rookies in field goal percentage. When the season ended, she played overseas in France, and averaged 15.8 points per game over the span of 25 games.
Not everything went well though.
Davenport faced another hardship as she returned with a tibial stress fracture and missed the first 19 games of the next WNBA season.
“That was hard,” she said. “Coming into the WNBA is a big adjustment and you want to get better and the only way to get better is to have game experience, and not having that experience was kind of rough.”
The Liberty waived her following training camp in 2009 and Davenport was without a team. Then one day, shopping for groceries in Wal-Mart that all changed. Her agent called and said Indiana wanted her.
“I took all the stuff out of my cart, went home and packed, and drove here the next day,” said Davenport with a laugh.
Fever coach Lin Dunn said she was very excited to have Davenport join the team.
“We were absolutely thrilled to be able to pick her up for nothing, a free agent of her skill as well as her size,” Dunn said. “We are investing in her. We think she has the potential to be one of the next top-five centers in this league.”
So far the investment has paid off fairly well.
In her first year with the Fever, Davenport missed training camp and played in 26 games, scoring 72 total points. This season Davenport has had a big impact for the team. In 19 games she already has 123 points and is fifth in the WNBA in blocks per 40 minutes.
Veteran forward Ebony Hoffman said she has been happy to see the improvement from Davenport.
“Jess has a lot of confidence right now and that’s what we need everyone to have,” Hoffman said. “From one to 11, everyone should be confident in their abilities and what they do best and Jess is sticking to doing what she does best. She is not doing anything that she does not do well and that’s what we love her for.”
One of Davenport’s best friends on the team, Briann January, describes “JDav,” as she calls her, as having a very calm and laid-back personality.
Off the court Davenport enjoys reading, watching movies, and hanging out with friends, and would one day like to design a clothing line for tall women.
On the court, Dunn said Davenport is almost too nice and needs to be more aggressive and physical. In the Fever’s overtime victory Sunday against her former team, Davenport grabbed a rebound and inadvertently elbowed Liberty forward Janel McCarville. Dunn questioned the foul call and said she thinks Davenport is improving both offensively and defensively.
Earlier in the game, January, who said she is excited to see her teammate and friend playing well, found Davenport for a lay-up at the buzzer of the first quarter.
“I’m excited, because being a point guard, I’m able to help her,” January said. “I’m able to get her the ball and I know what she can do with it when she gets it. I always have an eye out for her. It makes me happy when I give her a good dish and she finishes. I’ve been having a ton of fun playing with her.”
For a player who started her basketball career by winning a sixth-grade free-throw shooting contest in gym class, Davenport has come a long way; and being relatively young, her best years might be in front of her.
“In some ways you just mature a little bit,” Davenport said. “Being my fourth year, knowing more things and having that on-court time, I’m able to showcase my talent. Confidence helps a lot. There was a point in my career where I was struggling with my confidence, but now I feel better when I go out on the court.”