By AJ MAZZOLINI
The recruitment letters for Kyle Davis started coming about five years ago. From their letterheads shone the crests of schools like Santa Clara, Montana State and the Air Force Academy.
But none of the schools received the answer they sought; namely, a four-year basketball commitment from Davis. He still has all the letters, though, neatly stacked away at his family home in Las Vegas. They sit there as a momento and a reminder, even now as he plays his final season of basketball at Blue Mountain Community College.
Because instead of answering the queries from coaches, Davis answered another calling when he graduated from Bonanza High School in 2007. He put athletics aside and dedicated himself to the church, embarking on a two-year mission for God.
“I really did want to play basketball, but I knew I had to set my priorities,” said Davis, now a 23-year old forward with the Timberwolves.
For as long as Davis can remember, religion played an intricate role in his life. Raised in a household that observed the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a post-high school mission for Davis had been a topic of discussion for years. His older brother had participated in a mission as well as many other relatives.
An already difficult decision lay in the young man’s hands and the choices were further complicated as college recruiters came calling. They were drawn by Davis’ size and ambidextrous dribbling ability. A natural lefty, Davis stands close to 6 feet, 7 inches barefoot.
Encouraged by others who had experienced missionary work, Davis left home six months after graduating high school for Atlanta, the destination of his Mormon mission. He missed the game that, along with church, had been a part of his life throughout childhood. He liked to play with his fellow missionaries if opportunities presented themselves. They rarely did, though, as he and the other missionaries stayed busy under strictly scheduled days.
“I just had to tear myself away from basketball and realize I had more important things to do,” said Davis, who spent much of his time in Georgia doing community service.
The missionaries volunteered to help impoverished Georgians get back on their feet by doing light construction on homes and helping families move if needed. Thoughts of basketball felt farther away than home most days.
Now, more than four years since the last recruitment letter was opened, Davis finds himself in an eerily similar situation. His two years of community college ball are almost up. His sophomore and final season at Blue Mountain is under way.
The forward leads the T-Wolves — now 3-2 in the early season — in assists and shooting percentage while also ranking second in rebounds and third in points. The Las Vegas native is in the best playing shape of his life and a transfer recruitment could be in the cards soon.
“My skills are a lot more fine-tuned now; I’ve really come back around,” said Davis, who was initially sloth-footed and rusty on the court after his time away.
But does he really want it?
“I’ve asked myself that a lot of times recently. Do I want to pursue basketball?” Davis said. A lengthy silence followed the end of his question, almost as if he hoped an answer would materialize in the emptiness.
Indecision lingers in Davis as he contemplates trying to move closer to home to be with his family following the season. But that could involve dropping basketball again, a difficult task he’s already fought through.
For a player who once drew considerable Division-I interest, the opportunities are out there. He could try and reconnect with the schools that once targeted him. If not those, there must be others.
If no program wants to take a shot on him, Davis said trying to walk on with his home-team UNLV Rebels is the backup plan. That would allow him to pick up his education at the school and continue working toward a degree in the medical field.
Wherever he finds himself in a year, he has options. But that wouldn’t be true without a chance basketball encounter with a civil engineer named Kenny Ward.
Davis returned home from his mission two years ago and enrolled at UNLV. The positive experience he had in Atlanta had reassured him of his decision to leave basketball, but the game wasn’t gone entirely. Davis played pick-up games at a local LDS church on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week. Despite these weekly activities, basketball was largely gone from his life.
On a Tuesday in the spring of 2010, an out-of-basketball-shape Davis squared off against Ward. Ward had played shooting guard for two years at Blue Mountain a decade previous before getting his degree from BYU, and remains in close contact with Timberwolves’ coach Larry Bartee. When Ward, now 29, saw the big man drive to the basket and switch dribbling hands with ease, he took an interest.
“He was very smooth when we played and I just said, ‘Wow, did you play college ball?’ ” Ward recounted over the phone from Las Vegas. “Usually, you can tell who has.
“He was pretty fresh off his mission and I asked him, ‘Do you think you’d like to play ball? I know you could play (at Blue Mountain). I know if you went up there it wouldn’t be a waste of time.’”
Whether because of fate or just another stroke of luck, Bartee was making a recruiting trip to Sin City that May and Ward invited Davis to join the tryout. Despite the rust, Bartee liked Davis immediately.
“He’s left-handed and he messes people up when he fakes right and goes left,” Bartee said.
Having an older player like Davis on the team was another plus for Bartee. Davis’ life experience and poise rose to the surface during conversations with the coach. The ball player’s speech is peppered with humble “yes sirs” and constant assuring eye contact.
“He’s a great leader for our kids,” Bartee said. “Those three or four years maturity make so much difference. There’s such a big difference between being 18 and 22.”
Davis’ maturity allows him to stick to his convictions. As part of his religion, he can’t suit up in his Timberwolves jersey on Sundays. Blue Mountain’s schedule is void of Sunday games outside of tournament play, but if the T-Wolves advance to the championship game of this weekend’s Wenatchee Valley Crossover tournament, that game will take place on Sunday.
“And I won’t be playing,” Davis said shortly. “It can be tough not to play. I’ll still be there to support my team — but from the bench.”
Because whether he’s assisting the less fortunate or assisting his teammates on baskets, the Sabbath is a day of rest for Davis.