Kaela Davis, the No. 1-ranked player in the class of 2013 by ESPN’s Hoopgurlz, reiterated her commitment to Tennessee and the Lady Vols in a phone interview with Inside Tennessee.
Davis, a 6’2 guard from Norcross, Ga., who plays for Buford High School with 2012 commit Andraya Carter, said her first thoughts were with Pat Summitt.
“My first reaction was wondering if she was alright,” Davis said. “I didn’t know the definition of exactly what she was diagnosed with but just talking to her and hearing her talk, she sounded great.
“The first thing on my mind was never to de-commit. If anything I thought I needed to stand by her side and support her through everything she is going through. She is a great coach, and she’s done great things whether I get to play for her or not.
“I think it is just a great program. Obviously, Pat has done something great there, and I think no matter who the coach is they would definitely carry on that level of success. There is no doubt in my mind what I want to do.”
The news about Summitt’s diagnosis of early onset dementia initially shook the family.
“Obviously, our first reaction was one of sadness, concern and just shock because Pat has always been the pillar of health, and she is always in such good shape, ” said Kaela’s mother, Kendra Davis. “We just couldn’t imagine her being sick or showing any kind of weakness at all because she’s kind of a superhero around here.”
The family was able to make contact with Summitt and that conversation eased their minds.
“Obviously you have to educate yourself and continually talk to the coaches,” Antonio Davis said. “All of this kind of came as a shock to our family. Kaela has been a big-time Tennessee fan ever since Candace Parker was there. First and foremost you just feel bad for Coach Summitt. As strong as she is I am sure this has come as a bit of a shock, but I know she has a great supporting cast.
“I know that she is surrounded by people who love her and support her. I think she is going to be fine.”
Kendra Davis added, “Basically our conversation with her was expressing to her how proud we are of her just for the fact that she chose to share it. She showed such strength. We told her we loved her and in this household nothing was changing.”
Kaela Davis is only 16 years old, a tender age to make big decisions and then have to reexamine that decision. Her mother is proud of her daughter for how she has handled the recruiting process and then how she reacted to the news about Summitt.
“I am really proud of not only Kaela, but Andraya both,” Kendra Davis said. “They were here the other night and we were having dinner and we were just kind of talking about it. There was not one second where either one of them blinked an eye and thought that they would do anything different.
“We’ve had phone calls and emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter from different parents asking what are we going to do, is she going to open her recruitment again and she was like, ‘I’m a Lady Vol for life. I made a commitment to the team.’ ”
Kaela’s best friend, Draya Carter, will take her official visit in October and sign her LOI this November to play for Tennessee beginning in the 2012-13 season. Kaela will arrive in another year for the 2013-14 season, and having her best friend in orange is a plus.
“It helps a ton,” Kaela said. “She is always a fun person to have around so it definitely kind of clinches it to going there.”
The two already are on campus several times a season to watch Lady Vol basketball games and also intend to make the trip from Georgia for some Vol football games this fall. So, both Kaela and Draya feel connected already to the program while also being relatively close to home.
“I think that is one of the things that attracted me to Tennessee also, just being three-and-a-half hours away helps tremendously,” said Kaela, who like Draya, is polite and peppers her conversation with yes and no ma’am. “It does help keep that relationship (with Tennessee) strong. It is something that is already built.”
Carter has noted that the Lady Vols stuck by her after she shredded her knee last June, and she got the chance to return the favor by keeping to her commitment.
“That is what real unconditional love is,” Kendra Davis said. “They made an offer to my daughter when she was (young and still developing her game). If Kaela ended up not being the player that I thought she would be or that they thought she would be (Tennessee would still honor the commitment).
“That’s what you have to do when you really love people. You can’t just accept the good in situations and then when things aren’t ideal go, ‘Oh, I’m not too sure about this.’ That’s the kind of love we all want and that is what we should be giving, too.”
Tennessee’s class of 2012 has remained intact with Carter, Clarksville, Tenn.’s Bashaara Graves and Madison, Ala.’s Jasmine Jones (via her mother’s statement) all having made public announcements in news outlets that nothing had changed for them.
“That is a testament to Pat and all of those coaches that all of the girls have made such an unwavering commitment and been so strong in their stance,” Kendra Davis said. “That is really pretty cool.”
The Davis family has been close to Summitt for several years – she first saw Kaela play as an eighth-grader – and also have known Candace Parker since she was an emerging prep star living in Naperville, Ill., where the Davis family also resided before moving to Georgia.
“I think it plays a factor for sure,” Kaela said of her family’s connection to the Parkers. “Growing up I had Tennessee orange and went to a few games. So I think that definitely was a factor, but at the same time I love Tennessee. I think no matter what Tennessee would have been the school I would have chosen in the long run.”
Antonio Davis was a standout NBA player, most notably with the Indiana Pacers, and coaches his daughter’s AAU team, the Georgia Ice – a team that has been loaded with Division I talent – while Kendra Davis serves as the team’s general manager, so Kaela’s parents have a keen awareness of basketball and the recruiting process and how injuries and illness can sideline anyone without warning.
Davis’ parents had tried a year ago to talk their daughter out of making an early commitment but for every argument they presented, Kaela had a counter one. Finally, she convinced them and in May of 2010, Davis verbally committed to the Lady Vols despite the fact she had just finished one year of high school.
“I explained that to her when she really wanted to commit (in 2010) that a commitment is a commitment and you can’t go back on your word,” Kendra Davis said. “I am really proud of the fact that more than anything that in her heart she is a person of real loyalty and the fact that nothing was going to waver her dedication to that program. I am really proud of that.”
That word was tested this week with the news that Summitt would be battling an ongoing illness, but Kaela didn’t flinch.
“One of the things that I would say to her when she was trying to wear us down about committing was, ‘You never know. What if something happens and Pat couldn’t be there? Would you still want to go there?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I still would.’
“With a lot of the girls on our AAU teams I tell them all the time that they should choose schools that they want to go to even if you never get to bounce a basketball ever. Tennessee is that school for Kaela. The kid bleeds orange and has never dreamed or wanted to go anywhere else. I think she would want to be there regardless.”
Kaela now has two years of high school remaining – one left with best friend Draya – before she enters college. While playing for Tennessee is her dream she is smart enough not to wish away the years.
“I am not wishing my life away because high school years are the best years of your life so I am having fun in high school and being a kid now,” Kaela said. “But I am definitely excited to be in college and play for Pat and to just get the whole college experience. But I am making sure I enjoy high school at the same time.”
Kaela is clearly comfortable with her college decision but just as important, Kaela’s parents are comfortable with their daughter attending Tennessee.
“Oh, absolutely, absolutely,” Kendra Davis said. “Obviously there is a fear of the unknown and you wouldn’t necessarily want to send your kid into a situation that may be changing or that there are intangibles and just things that you have no control over, but we are comfortable with the entire staff.
“Kaela over the years has built a relationship, as well as myself and my husband, with everyone on that staff. So we believe that the values and the principles and everything that Pat has built that program to be will remain intact. We are comfortable with everything that the program represents. And we know that Pat’s legacy and what she stands for is going to be represented the moment you put the jersey on.
“The beauty of what this situation is, none of us know how long anybody is going to be here or on a coaching staff, but I think that the principles and the foundation and the standards and the tradition is always going to be there, especially with this group of coaches that are there that have worked so closely with that for so long.
“I know what those people represent so we are very comfortable with our daughter being there. Kaela and I talked about it and she was obviously concerned. Here was a kid who every single day since when she was 9 years old when Candace was being recruited and played there and she kind of went through that whole journey with Candace, and this is something that has always been her dream was to play for Pat Summitt.”
That was the part that Kaela initially struggled with when she got the news about Summitt. Kaela had no desire to reopen her recruitment – Tennessee remains her first and only choice – but she had a huge desire to play for Summitt and suddenly that was not as certain, though Summitt has said she intends to coach for at least three more years, and her medical prognosis is good in terms of medication, controlling symptoms and improving brain function.
“So, the thing that I had to explain to her – and she’s a kid who in everything she does has tried to make herself appealing to the way that Pat and Tennessee does things – so I think Pat instilling that kind of work ethic and determination she has already given so much to my daughter whether Kaela ever plays one minute for her just setting that standard for her so early and giving her something so incredible to work towards,” Kendra Davis said. “She has already given my daughter so much in terms of work ethic and standards of excellence.
“We’re going to err on the side of optimism. I think that if anybody is capable of beating the odds and showing real resilience then I think it’s Pat. We’re at an optimistic place with all of this once the initial shock of hearing it sunk in. We’re now at a good place with it. That program is built on where we want our daughter to be.
“I said, ‘You can play for Pat whether she’s sitting in a chair on the bench or not. You can always play for Pat.’ ”