How does it feel to start at point guard for the highest-scoring team in women’s college basketball? Ask Wilmington, Ohio’s Crystal Davis, the dynamic senior who ignites Berea College’s explosive offense.
“I like the way we run, the way we force turnovers and get a lot of shots,” she says. “The system we play at Berea is different from what everyone else is doing, and that suits the type of person I am, because I like to be different. I enjoy knowing that my team stands out.”
In 2002 Davis joined a Berea (NAIA) squad that had been struggling along at .500 for several seasons. She asked for #13 for her uniform number. The Lady Mountaineers were a ho-hum 14-13 in her freshman campaign. The next fall, coach Bunky Harkleroad introduced a vigorous, attacking style of basketball based on relentless pressure defense, a fast breaking, three-point shooting offense, and fearless offensive rebounding. Expressing confidence in Davis’s ballhandling and decision-making skills, Harkleroad named her his starter at the point.
Early in the season the 5-4 Davis electrified Berea fans by rocketing into the air to block a last-second shot that preserved a narrow road victory over tough archrival Transylvania University. The Lady Mountaineers went on to set a school record with 21 victories while leading the nation, at all levels of women’s basketball, in scoring. Last year’s 22-6 team scored 100 or more points in 14 of its games while setting national one-season records for most three-point field goals attempted and made and leading the NAIA in rebounds per game.
According to Harkleroad, “Crystal Davis, during the second half of last season, played better than anybody in the country at her position. In our last eight games she had 78 assists with just 10 turnovers. She was more valuable to us than anybody else’s point guard was to them.”
When the final stats were tallied, Davis ranked sixth in the nation with 5.8 assists per game. Her assist-turnover ratio of 3.48-1 was the best in the country.
Berea launches almost 100 shots per game, over half of them from outside the three-point line, but Davis’s responsibility is to be a playmaker, not a shooter. “That’s fine with me,” she says. “We have plenty of players who can shoot from behind the arc. I’d rather they do it than me. My job is to get the ball to them.” If a shot misses, it’s often Davis who shocks the opposition by darting inside, seizing the rebound, and laying it in. She ranked third in rebounds for the Lady Mountaineers last season and is second this season. For three years she’s averaged a solid triple double (points, assists, and rebounds) per 40 minutes played.
This year’s Lady Mountaineers, at 10-5, are scoring 104 points per game to lead the nation once again. Earlier this season Davis became Berea College’s career leader in assists. She currently has 464 assists, and each one she dishes out augments a record that probably won’t be broken soon.
“It’s Crystal’s responsibility to get us into our game, to execute our system,” notes Harkleroad. “As she goes, we go. We ask her to take great care of the ball, to distribute it to our scorers, to attack the basket, and to encourage her teammates. Crystal will not quit. There are times when she takes more heat than other players on the team when things don’t go as planned. She is able to take that, because she is very confident in her abilities. When things don’t go well, she always comes back strong.”
Adds fellow senior Ashlee Crump, “Crystal works hard for everything she wants. She is a leader.”
Davis, the daughter of Mark Davis Sr and Cynthia Davis of Wilmington, played the point for coach Dauna Armstrong at Wilmington High School. Although she also played three years of soccer, she knew that basketball would be her sport of choice in college. Like many high school seniors, Davis sought a college that was away from home, but not too far away. She chose Berea, located at the edge of the Kentucky bluegrass about 170 miles south of Wilmington.
While Davis possesses the ultra-competitive drive of an elite athlete, she’s serious about her education. At Berea College, sports don’t top the priority list. Students admitted to Berea pay no tuition, but all of them must work at college jobs to help defray the costs of their education. No exceptions are made for athletes, who play sports in whatever time is left after they’ve fulfilled their academic and labor obligations. Although every athlete at Berea is a walk-on, the Kentucky school’s teams hold their own by attracting competitors who are uniquely committed.
Davis works in the college library. She’ll graduate with a business major in May.
“Right now I’m not sure what I’ll be doing after I graduate,” she says. “But I know I’ll be prepared for a good career. And before my life ends, I’d like to coach basketball, at the high school or college level, and perhaps work for a recruiting service.”