DOVER — After two years of battling knee injuries, Aaliyah Davis was done with basketball.
But Delaware State women’s basketball coach Tamika Louis still wanted Davis to be involved.
So Louis suggested the former Milford and Cape Henlopen High standout hang around the team. Eventually, that turned into a team-manager role.
Then, after 16 games. Louis asked Davis if she wanted to be a player again.
“I’m like, ‘This woman is crazy,’” Davis said. “I wasn’t in shape. This woman had to be crazy. But she was like, ‘Aaliyah, why don’t you just play? You’re here all the time and you’re just as good.’”
Davis took Louis up on the offer and debuted on Jan. 24 with a 13-minute cameo against North Carolina A&T, missing the only shot she took. She scored her first points of the season two games later at South Carolina State.
It was all setting the stage for Davis’ home debut against Bethune-Cookman.
Davis played six minutes in that game last Saturday. The Hornets were down by two with 1.5 seconds left, inbounding the ball under their own basket.
Louis was screaming to pass the ball to Tierra Hawkins, who is known to hit halfcourt shots in practice.
But the ball found its way to Davis. She took two dribbles and heaved a desperation effort from beyond halfcourt which swished through the hoop for a stunning 72-71 Hornet victory.
The fans in Memorial Hall erupted as Davis was mobbed by her teammates.
“As soon as she let it go I was like, ‘This kid is going to make this shot,’” Louis said. “She deserved to make that shot. I think she needed that. I think God gave her that shot as a way of saying, ‘You’re OK now.’”
It was Davis’ first three-pointer in her three years at DelState. The three points were a career-high.
“I needed that,” Davis said. “I needed it for my confidence. Ever since last weekend happened, I’ve seen myself grow in practices and in games. It let me know that I can still do some things.”
Davis, from Lincoln, came to Delaware State after a senior season at Cape Henlopen that landed her on the girls’ basketball All-State first team.
She was recruited by former DSU coach Ed Davis, before Louis took over the program as Davis was entering her freshman year. Davis said Delaware State was her first Division I offer and she accepted it right away.
“Where I’m from, you rarely get good deals for going to college,” Davis said. “I just wanted to go to school. When Coach Davis came to me, that my first choice. I love being here, I’m not just saying that because I’m playing. I love the environment around here and I love the players and the coaches. Even last year, when I stepped back, Coach Louis still had confidence in me.”
An ACL injury robbed Davis of her freshman season in 2012-2013 so she took a redshirt. The following year she was still hampered by the knee injury and appeared in just five games at the end of the season.
All the work coming back from the knee injuries took its toll mentally on Davis. She didn’t want to go through that again so she told Louis she wanted to step away.
A long conversation soon followed. Louis admits she cried when the two came to an agreement that Davis would not be on the Hornet roster for the 2014-2015 season.
“It was one of the hardest things I had to do,” Louis said. “I remember telling her, ‘I’m not going to watch you not be successful.’ She’s the type of person who is destined for greatness and you want what’s best for her.”
Then in mid-September, Louis was briefly suspended after allegations of harassment toward her players. After an investigation by the university, she was cleared to return to coaching.
It was during her suspension, though, when she began to reconnect with Davis.
“As I was going through everything with my suspension, I remember bumping into her at a local Wal-Mart,” Louis said. “There was just something about her. She had a light and a presence around her. I remember thinking that I needed her as a part of my life. As soon as the whole ordeal was over I realized I wanted her around.”
And it turns out that’s what Davis wanted, too.
“Once school started, I started to see the girls play and I realized I needed to be around it more,” Davis said, “So I called up Coach Louis and wanted to know how I could be around the team. I didn’t necessarily want to be on the team, I just wanted to be around it because I missed it.”
Davis does have coaching aspirations when she finishes at Delaware State so Louis first asked if she wanted to shadow her at practices.
She was soon officially named team manager. But Davis said she considered herself more of a manager for the coach.
Louis thinks Davis will make a great coach someday.
“I’m calling it now — she’ll be the next head coach for Delaware State in the next 10-15 years,” Louis said. “She’s that good.”
As for this year, Davis set a new career-high in points on Monday with six as she played 23 minutes.
“I’m just happy to be along for the ride,” Louis said. “It makes my coaching experience worth it.”
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