Davis, Hancock Lead Way For Lady Pats

MADISON – One is maybe 5-foot-5 standing on her tippy toes and has always longed to be taller. The other is pushing 6-1 and wishes she was shorter.

One is compact with legs more suited for a gymnast. The other is tall and thin with a long wingspan befitting, well, a basketball player.

One is brunette. One is blonde.

One grew up in the city with a relatively small family, the other more in the country with a rather large family.

One is a guard, the other a post. One wears No. 24, the other No. 20.

Yes, the list of differences in MRA juniors Ella Wesley Davis and Riley Hancock is a long one. There’s even more, but one gets the picture. Crazily enough, the Lady Patriots’ mismatched dynamic duo, as night-and-day different as they may be in so many ways, enjoy a certain yin-to-yang chemistry together on and away from the basketball court.

It’s evident whether they’re riding jet ski’s or four-wheelers at the Hancock’s house in Bentonia, eating out, spending the night together, or just hanging out with friends. And the same goes for basketball. In a recent scrimmage, Hancock kicked the ball out to Davis for a 3-pointer, and a possession later Davis drove inside and dished the ball off to Hancock for a short shot.

“We’re totally different, but we’re similar in a lot of ways, too,” Davis said.

Said Hancock: “There’s a bond there, for sure. We work well together.”

Davis and Hancock, who were both named to the 15-member All-MAIS preseason girls basketball team, will no doubt be called upon heavily throughout the upcoming season which tips off sometime around 7:30 p.m. Monday night. The Lady Patriots open against Copiah in the opening round of the annual Madison Madness preseason tournament hosted by MRA. They are slated to play defending Overall champion Leake Academy on Tuesday night, and Columbia Academy on Thursday afternoon.

“If you were starting up a team in our league, and you had two picks, there’s a lot of coaches in our league that would love to have those two,” Jackson Prep coach Michael McAnally said.

Davis, a combo guard, is the leading returning scorer (10.6 ppg.) from last year’s team which finished 19-13 and advanced to the Overall semifinals. Riley, a forward, was the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer (8.5 ppg.).

They are two of three returning starters along with point guard Hunter Thompson (1.5 ppg.). That number grows to four if one counts shooting guard Catie Mann, who averaged 6.3 points per game as a part-time starter a year ago. They are expected to be joined in the starting lineup by Sloane Vinson (1.8 ppg.), who saw considerable playing time off the bench a year ago.

While last year’s team was young and inexperienced with one lone senior starter in Laurel Fulcher, this year’s team is now a year older and armed with invaluable playing time after being thrown in the fray as relative newbies. Thompson, Vinson and Mann are seniors, while Davis and Hancock are juniors. Longtime MRA head coach Stephen Force expects that experience to pay off handsomely this season as the Lady Patriots chase their first State and Overall titles since the 2014-’15 season.

“I have always believed that the biggest jump in any high school athlete is from the first year to the second year of playing,” Force said. “We have four key players who are taking that jump this year. Whether they are juniors or seniors this is the second year of real experience for all of them except Hunter who has been starting since the 10th grade. That one more year of experience will be key. I believe we definitely have the talent. We will need to develop chemistry between this group and establish our own identity, but there’s no doubt we can compete and have a chance at winning a championship.”

Force, who is entering his 19th season at MRA and 26th overall, won his 500th game at MRA last season. He has 651 career wins to go along with five Division I State titles, two State titles and two Overall championships. He would like nothing better than to hang another banner inside Duease Hall at season’s end. For that to happen, he’s likely going to need big seasons from Davis and Hancock, who honed their skills this summer playing AAU basketball with the Mississippi Jazz.

A year ago, Davis split time between point guard and shooting guard. She scored in double figures in 20 games, including a season-high 18 points against Parklane, to go along with 16-point outings against Central Hinds, PCS and Copiah. Her signature move is a quick shot fake followed by a hard drive to the basket, but she’s also capable of making pull-up jumpers and draining 3-pointers. She made the State tournament team, the Overall Tournament team and was an All-MAIS selection at year’s end.

“Ella Wesley could really control a game with her ability to handle the ball and get to the basket,” Force said. “She played a lot this summer and really scored the ball well.”

Meanwhile, Hancock scored in double figures 13 times, including a season-high of 19 points in a regular season game against Jackson Academy. She bested that in postseason, scoring a career-high 23 points and hauling down 15 rebounds in a State Tournament win over Parklane. Hancock, who runs the floor extremely well for a post player and is blessed with good hands, flashed all of her considerable talent in that game – a game Force hopes she can build on this season. She, too, made the All-Tournament team at State and was an All-MAIS selection.

“Riley has the ability to dominate every night both offensively and defensively, but she has to come with the mindset that she is the best player on the floor and show it,” Force said.

It’s hard to imagine anyone with a more hectic schedule than Davis, who participates in six sports – soccer, basketball, swimming, cheerleading, track, and tennis. She is best known for her soccer skills – she had a team-leading 16 goals this season and was an all-conference selection. However, she’s also been playing basketball since a young age and loves the sport with equal passion.

Hancock is a two-sport standout. She won the triple jump and finished second in the high jump at the State meet a year ago. At the urging of her friends, Hancock also gave soccer a try this season and ended up starting at goalkeeper a couple of games. Her future, though, if she so chooses, is in basketball.

“We’ve got a lot of girls coming back from last year, so I believe if we can work together as a team, stay positive and maintain a positive environment, we have a chance of making it really far this year,” Hancock said.

Said Davis: “I know there’s going to be a lot expected out of Riley and I this season, but it’s going to take a total team effort for us to achieve what we want to achieve. We’ve got a lot of good players, and they’ve all been working really hard in practice, so we’re all looking forward to a good season.”

Thompson, a fiery competitor and good ball-handler and passer, will join Davis in the backcourt. Mann, who is capable of getting hot from 3-point range at times, is slated to start on the other wing. And Vinson, a good rebounder who like Thompson isn’t afraid to mix it up, will join Hancock along the frontline.

“Catie is one of the hardest workers I have ever coached,” Force said. “I know she is ready. Hunter will be one of the best this year. She will benefit the most from the experience the other four gained last year. And Sloane is playing and shooting the ball more this year with confidence. All three of those girls should be big contributors for us this season.”

Scoring was an issue at times last season, but Force doesn’t foresee that being nearly as big of an issue this season. He also expects this year’s team to improve on the defensive end.

“We have to be better offensively,” he said. “That’s where the extra year of experience will show, and four of my five starters played some AAU basketball this summer and worked on their individual games. Defensively, I’m not sure yet that we have that one individual stopper like we had last year with Laurel, but I do believe overall we can be a really good defensive team by Christmas. We have some size this year, so that will really help us defensively.”

Force will have more depth at his disposal, as well, meaning he should have more coaching buttons to push. Sophomore Grace Mansell, junior Evie Ewing, junior Kathryn Kilpatrick, 8th-grader Presley Hughes, and sophomores Gracie Rhea, Anna Marie Gentry and Christina Franklin are expected to bolster the backcourt. Meanwhile, freshman Allie Redding, and sophomores Caroline Redding, Abi Alden Benton and Mary Crisler Gatlin bring depth to the frontcourt.

“I expect all of them to be ready when and if their number is called,” Force said.