Sky may not be her limit

College basketball: Navy's Courtney Davidson has her sights set on being a pilot, but her future could hold much more.

February 21, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Where do you begin? With helmets and helicopters? With posters of point guards? Or, with that sad September day in 2001?

There are so many different ways to tell Courtney Davidson's story, and not one of them is wrong. Athlete. Soldier. Scholar. Daredevil. Dreamer. She's a little of each. She's a foreign policy wonk who spends half her day in high-top sneakers, and she can beat a zone defense and lecture about national defense without hesitation.

And though she's about to put the finishing touches on a career that will certainly go down as one of the best in the history of Navy's women's basketball - she's averaging 18 points and needs a total of just 18 in the Mids' final three games to break the academy's career scoring mark - it could easily end up as a footnote many years from now, when she has traveled the world and her brown hair has streaks of gray.

"She could end up in the Oval Office someday," said Navy coach Tom Marryott, with no hint of hyperbole. "I think, with Courtney, anything is possible."

Hearing this, of course, makes her squirm. She can't absorb a compliment like that without nervous laughter and eye-rolling. But she won't dismiss it, either. If there is one thing you should know about Courtney Davidson, it's that she does not believe in dreaming small.

Even when she was tiny, she was impossible to ignore. In her hometown of New Oxford, Pa., her father was the boys high school basketball coach, and she was the team's designated rebounder.

Before games, and at halftime, Davidson would sprint across the floor fetching errant shots, her small legs churning as she wove between the towering post players to avoid being trampled. It wasn't long before she was riding the bus on road trips and practicing her dribbling at the far end of the court while her father, Jeffrey, taught 17-year-old boys how to set screens and play defense.

"As soon as she was old enough, she wanted to jump in and do drills with the kids," said her father. "She wanted to be John Stockton. That's really who she modeled herself after. I think she knew more about who was who [in the NBA] than I did."

In time, posters of Stockton wallpapered her room, and Davidson would put down her basketball only to pick up a bat and a glove.

"No matter what I was doing, I was always playing with the guys," Davidson said. "When I was 10 years old, I made the all-star team for baseball. It was all boys. They'd make fun of me sometimes for being a girl. I think that was where I really got my competitive spirit from. I always wanted to ... show them that I was just as good."

And she did. After a few practices, the doubters were silenced. The teasing stopped. But the next day, so did her season.

"I went home and fell out of a tree and broke my arm," Davidson said. "After that, I couldn't play anymore."

Still, there is some satisfaction that it was the broken arm, not the boys, who kept her from playing.

Basketball was No. 1

In high school, she joined every club, captained every team and nearly aced every test. She was a member of the marching band, the student council, the National Honor Society and the Girl Scouts. But her love for basketball surpassed all. On a trip to France, she missed it so much, she slipped away from friends to find a pickup game.

"In baseball, you can pitch a perfect game or you can throw a shutout," Davidson said. "But in basketball, you never achieve perfection. I think that's why I love it so much. I love just trying to get as close to perfection as possible."

She was the best player in a small town, but its Amateur Athletic Union program wasn't prominent enough to give her great exposure. "I got recruited by a lot of schools with good academic reputations because they saw that I had pretty decent grades," she said. "Patriot League schools, Ivy League schools mostly. I heard from a few Big East schools a little, but that never panned out."

When Navy called, she was hesitant. She had attended a basketball camp at the academy before her senior year, during the heart of plebe summer. First impressions of life on The Yard can be negative.

"All the plebes were running around with shaved heads and everyone was just yelling constantly," Davidson said. She recalls telling a friend, "There is no way I could ever go to school here. This is insane. Why would you do this to yourself?"

Meeting a challenge

But a second visit, and then a third, made her ask: Wasn't this just another challenge? When had she ever been afraid of a challenge? Never. Where do I sign?

When she became a plebe, it felt like she had walked into a tornado. That first year was a blur. There was always somewhere to be, something to memorize, some chore to complete. Even her sleep was restless because days began at 5:30 a.m. Her only peace came during basketball practice.

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