In slightly less than two years, Mia Davis, a sophomore forward for the Temple women’s basketball team, has developed a fondness for Philadelphia that almost matches her love for her hometown of Baltimore.
But one aspect that she has not been able to embrace is the City of Brotherly Love’s fervent passion for cheesesteaks.
“I think my home Philly cheesesteaks are better than Philly cheesesteaks,” said Davis, a St. Frances graduate. “Most of the time, I tell [teammates, staff members, friends] that, and they’re like, ‘What?! You just didn’t go to the right places.’ But I’ve been to all of the spots, and I don’t like them.”
If that sounds like sacrilege to Philadelphians, Davis — who said she misses Baltimore’s chicken box meals of fried chicken wings, wedge-shaped fries and bread — doubled down.
“I feel as though at home, our cheesesteaks are juicier, they have more mayonnaise,” she said. “They just taste different. Philly cheesesteaks are dry.”
Gastronomic differences aside, Davis has endeared herself to the Owls (9-17 overall and 5-8 in the American Athletic Conference) and their fans. She leads the team in scoring at 19.1 points per game, rebounding at 9.0 rebounds per game, and three-point field-goal percentage at 41.2 percent and is the only player in the AAC to rank in the top three in all three categories.
In a 78-70 win against Cincinnati on Feb. 17, Davis collected her 10th double-double of the season. No other player on Temple — which has dropped three of its last four games heading into Wednesday night’s home game against Tulsa — has more than two double-doubles.
Owls coach Tonya Cardoza said Davis, who was a unanimous choice by her teammates to be one of the team’s three captains, has blossomed as a leader.
“Last year, she was just trying to find her way,” Cardoza said. “We had another kid on the team, [then-senior guard] Tanaya [Atkinson], who she sort of took the back seat to because she was a senior. This year, I think her approach was, ‘I’m not going to take the back seat to anyone. I’m just going to play my game and I’m going to lead this team.’ Every single person on our team selected her to be the captain. So she looks at it as being her team, and she’s just going to go out and try to do what she has to do to help us to win.”
Davis has not had much difficulty cultivating instant success at the collegiate level. Last winter, she ranked second on the Owls in scoring (11.2 points per game) and rebounding (7.5 per game), scored at least 10 points in 20 games and pulled in at least 10 rebounds in seven games en route to being a unanimous selection to the AAC All-Freshman Team.
Davis said her experience at St. Frances, where she finished with more than 1,700 points and more than 1,000 rebounds and was named The Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro Player of the Year as a senior, prepared her for the leap to college basketball.
“Coming out of high school, I played a big role for my high school team, which was a good team,” she said of the Panthers, who won their second straight Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland championship in her senior year. “So I expected some of the same things, I guess, like being a leader and being one of the priorities on the team.”
After being a post player for St. Frances and Temple last season, the 6-foot Davis has become more of a wing player as a sophomore. To facilitate the move, she worked in the offseason on her long-range shooting and continues her own shooting drill in which she must make 20 3-pointers from five different positions on the court before she hits the showers.
“She doesn’t have a real position because she can do a lot of things with her size,” Cardoza said. “The mismatch is most post players can’t guard her from the free-throw line out because she’s able to go by them. When I put her at [small forward], guards can’t defend her inside. So being able to do both definitely helps her because she’s always going to be a mismatch.”
Davis said she welcomed the position change.
“I think it helps out a lot because I can do more things on the ball, like attacking instead of just posting up,” she said. “But in the post, I feel as though I got to touch the ball a lot, too, because there were a lot of mismatches with bigger players guarding. On the wings, I feel as though there are mismatches, too, because now they’re little, and I can just take them to the hole and stuff. And sometimes they leave me open for the 3-pointer because they’re not sure that I can shoot from there.”
Sophomore guard Desiree Oliver said opponents overlook Davis’ shooting touch at their own risk.
“Her and the basket just have a connection,” said Oliver, who is also Davis’ roommate. “Whatever shot she shoots, it’s always going in. That’s definitely a gift.”
Another skill is Davis’ ability to grab rebounds. At 6 feet, she is the seventh-tallest player on the roster, but ranks third in the AAC in rebounds per game, trailing only Connecticut’s 6-2 senior forward Napheesa Collier (10.4) and SMU’s 6-3 senior forward Alicia Froling (9.3).
“I feel as though it’s just a mentality that I have,” Davis said. “I just want to go in and get rebounds. A lot of people don’t crash the boards. They just get back. I just feel like I can box out and get the ball.”
Davis might be the team’s primary option on offense, but she said she doesn’t feel a burden to spark her teammates.
“I just go out with the same mindset for every game,” she said. “My teammates do a good job of getting me the ball when I’m hot or when I need it. I think my teammates take a lot of pressure off me — like [graduate student guard] Alliya [Butts], [sophomore guard] Emani Mayo and [freshman guard] Marissa Mackins. They help out a lot by scoring, too.”
A criminal justice major, Davis said she is considering pursuing criminal law. But she conceded that playing professionally in the WNBA or overseas is her first option. Until then, however, she is intent on getting 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and trying to help propel the Owls to their first NCAA tournament appearance since the 2016-17 season.
“I feel as though last year was a low point because we didn’t win that many games in the conference, and I feel as though the beginning of this year wasn’t what we expected,” she said. “We expected to win more games. But now I feel as though this is the high point of the season because things are turning around finally to where we’re working together and getting wins.”