When Kyvon Davenport first suited up for the East Hall basketball team in 2011, he couldn’t even make a layup.
But Vikings coach Joe Dix was reluctant to cut the 6-foot-1 ninth grader, not with that kind of height at his age. Yet Davenport was unable to perform even the most perfunctory task on a basketball court, the same shortcoming that stopped him from making the eighth-grade squad the previous year.
“Yeah, it was bad,” Davenport recalled with a laugh. “When I started ninth grade, I couldn’t make a layup or dribble, or anything. I only played basketball because of my friends. It wasn’t something that I was really interested in.”
Six years later, it’s safe to say Davenport can at least dribble.
The Gainesville native last Sunday committed to play basketball at the University of Memphis after spending two years at Georgia Highlands College in Rome. Davenport quickly developed into one of the most highly rated junior college players in the country, leading to scholarship offers from a handful of Division I schools.
“It’s the most incredible transformation I’ve ever seen from a basketball player,” Dix said. “ … It blows my mind that he’s signing at Memphis when six years ago he couldn’t even hit a layup.”
The Tigers are getting a player who can now do far more than that. Georgia Highlands College coach Phil Gaffney said Davenport blossomed into an inside-out threat as a sophomore, during which he racked up 21 double-doubles and earned Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year recognition.
“He can step out and shoot 3s, or take people off the dribble,” Gaffney said. “He expanded his game instead of being just the inside player. That, along with the increase in strength, made him a much better player.”
It’s a far cry from the lanky kid who couldn’t connect from right underneath the basket.
Dix kept Davenport around in hopes he’d develop into a serviceable player. He reached that point by the end of his freshman season, when Dix said he “took a gamble” by pulling him up to varsity to practice with the veterans.
The Memphis-bound forward credits his high school coach’s leap of faith as the impetus for his rapid improvement.
“I started getting better at practice and working out,” Davenport said. “I was competing against people better than me, and they showed me a few things. It also helped to play it every day.”
Dix saw some promise in Davenport toward the end of his freshman season, and he spent the next year honing his skills on the junior varsity team. The coach recalled Davenport committing 12 turnovers in his first varsity start as a junior before responding with 25 points and 23 rebounds in the very next game.
He posted 38 points and 23 boards later in the season against Buford, which played for a state championship that year.
Those kind of numbers became the norm for Davenport, who played his way onto all-state teams in his final two years at East Hall and was named his team’s MVP in the 2015 Georgia Athletic Coaches Association’s All-Star Basketball Showcase.
During his senior year, Davenport averaged 22 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks a game while leading the Vikings to the Class AAA state quarterfinals.
“It was like every time I saw him play, he was a little bit better,” Dix said. “It was almost strange how it happened. … But he worked hard at it and loved playing. He was always in the gym. If you do something enough, you start to get good at it.”
Davenport was good enough to move on to Georgia Highlands College, where he amassed a 66-3 record over his two seasons with the team. He wrapped up last season averaging 16.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and almost three blocks per game en route to being named conference player of the year and an NJCAA first team All-American.
“I’ve been coaching 23 years as a head coach, and he’s the best shot-blocker I’ve ever had,” Gaffney said. “He even keyed our press. Memphis is getting someone who plays both ends of the floor.”
The rising junior produced one of his best performances at just the right time.
Memphis coach Tubby Smith attended the Chargers’ 99-80 win against South Georgia Tech in the Region XVII Championship Game, when Davenport piled up 27 points and 13 rebounds in about only 25 minutes of action.
The Tigers, who had begun recruiting Davenport just a month before, offered him a scholarship shortly after the final whistle.
“We had won region, but getting that offer made it even better,” Davenport said.
He had offers from Ole Miss and a handful of mid-major schools, including 2017 NCAA Tournament participants East Tennessee State and Florida Gulf Coast. Despite Memphis entering late in the recruiting cycle, Davenport committed while on a visit to campus last weekend.
The 6-foot-8 forward said he was swayed by the school’s consistent recruitment and Smith’s successful track record. The coach guided Kentucky to a national championship in 1998 and has seven regular season conference championships to his name.
Then there’s the prospect of playing time. The Tigers have lost six players — including their three leading scorers from last year — to transfers since the season ended.
“I feel like it’s a new team,” Davenport said. “Honestly, I’ve got to go there and keep working and battling for my spot.”
Davenport, who bulked up to 205 pounds over the last few years, should compete for significant minutes to replace three departing frontcourt players. The No. 19 overall junior college player in this year’s class, per jucorecruiting.com, Davenport has two years of eligibility remaining.
He plans to arrive on campus this summer to take classes and begin acclimating himself with the team. After paying his dues for two years at a junior college, Davenport can’t wait to get started.
“It was about how bad I wanted (to make it to Division I basketball),” he said. “I really just had to work. I knew I wanted it better than this. The only way for me to get better than this was to fight through and it work my way out of it.”
The East Hall graduate hasn’t forgotten where he started, though. Davenport acknowledged his ninth-grade self never envisioned reaching this stage.
Neither did Dix, who literally had to teach the Memphis-bound forward the basics of basketball.
“Our hopes were to just have a serviceable kid who could play inside a little bit,” Dix said. “We hoped he could make a layup or a turnaround jump shot. But over time, he became so much more than that.
“I’ve seen kids improve — we pride ourselves on that at East Hall — but never like him.”