King of Queens
This article appears in the October/November 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
A major theme in the life of Theo Davis growing up in the Brampton suburb of Toronto, Canada, was his status as "the baby" in the family. He is, after all, the youngest of eight children, including five brothers.
About 10 years later and 360 miles to the south, in Queens, N.Y., it's safe to say things have changed.
Now, as a 6-foot-10, 220-pound senior center at Cardozo, the 18-year-old Davis is essentially on his own, away from home (he lives with his aunt, Pam Williams) and is pretty far from being the baby. What's more, no one else in his family stands taller than 6-foot-2.
Davis, who has committed to play his college ball at the University of Texas, is rated the nation's No. 5 center and No. 41 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com. And he's come a long way in New York City in addition to having come a long way to New York City.
It's a journey he'd make again. In every sense of the word.
"It's made me a lot tougher," says Davis, who averaged 15.4 points, 12.8 rebounds and 6.8 blocks per game last year for a loaded Cardozo hoop squad that reached the PSAL championship game. "At first, it was a little hard to adjust, but it's helped me a lot. It was difficult, but it was for my own good and I'll be better in the long run. My parents have kept it together. My brothers and sisters understand. They wish they had an opportunity like this, too, but they're happy for me."
So what's the biggest difference between living in Toronto's outskirts vs. the media capital of the world — apart from the fact that the borough of Queens alone is home to six times as many people as Brampton?
"You know, I'd have to say the biggest difference is that athletes are more respected over here," says Davis, who came to the U.S. in the spring of 2003 and chose Cardozo because his aunt lives in Queens and because of head coach Ron Naclerio's reputation. "More eyes are on you in New York."
There is zero doubt that Davis is an athlete worth watching. Especially considering he averaged a double-double as a junior on a 28-5 squad that featured five other legitimate go-to guys. A gifted shot blocker and rebounder, Davis possesses the athleticism to out-quick bulkier players and the strength and size to bang with most elite big men.
In 23 seasons as a scholastic head coach, Naclerio has produced 41 Division I college players and three NBA players. And it's quite clear Naclerio respects his import from the Great White North.
"He was near the top of the nation last year in altering shots, blocking shots and rebounding," says Naclerio, 46. "He does those things as well as anybody. In the rest of his game, he shows flashes of brilliance. He's a tremendous passer out of the post, he shows remarkable touch around the basket, he can handle for his size. He just needs to be more consistent and he's got a chance to live the dream."
Davis backed that up last season by taking a bite out of the Big Apple and surviving. Although barely. He went from playing about 20 games per season up north to playing 15 to 18 scrimmages in the preseason for Cardozo.
Basketball practice began at the end of November in Canada but starts Oct. 18 this year, for example, in New York. Not to mention, the city AAU summer season continues into early October.
"It was a big jump for him because he was a big deal in Toronto," says Naclerio. "Up there, he had maybe a handful of games that matched the intensity of an average regular-season game here. There were only a handful of times the opponents had someone with the size to handle him. New York was an adjustment because you have to earn your respect here. People try to break you down, not build you up. He's a nice kid, a sensitive kid, and he's learning that on the court in New York City, that's not the best of traits.
"New York doesn't care who you are," Naclerio adds. "If you can be All-Everything in New York, you can be an All-American at the next level. This city forced him to look in the mirror and see what God's given him and bust his butt to do something about it."
This season, Davis still won't have to be "The Man" night in and night out. Not with a lineup that includes Hofstra-bound senior guard Vic Morris, Division I recruit and senior forward Drew Gladstone, and senior guard Marques Cox, a transfer from Rice.
The biggest hurdle now is for Davis to avoid putting too much pressure on himself.
"So many people put him under the microscope that he sometimes lets it get under his skin," says Naclerio. "Picking Texas early was great for him because he was the type of kid who took it hard if he had an off night when the recruiters were there. He's got to learn to ask himself nothing more than if he gave his best effort. If the answer is no, you just try again tomorrow."
Naclerio's preaching seems to be sinking in.
"Right now, I try not to pay attention to all the talk — I try not to hear it," says Davis. "Sometimes I can use the expectations and what people say bad about me as motivation, but I just want to come out and be consistent every game."
More than anything else, that newfound ability to tune out the static and tune in the substance has freed up Naclerio to start coaching Davis with his future in mind.
"When you have a player like this, of course you get excited and caught up in the hoopla, but you have to take them aside and tell them what they won't get away with at the next level," says Naclerio. "Now I can say stuff to him like, ‘Theo, you missed the layup, then jumped over the 6-4 kid to get a put-back. In the Big 12, you'd better elongate and dunk it because you won't be up against some 6-4 guy.'"
That's a hard lesson to learn, but a welcome one when you're not "the baby" anymore.