Ribault’s Rennia Davis: From reluctant superstar to soon-to-be WNBA draft pick

Tennessee guard Rennia Davis, right, dribbles against South Carolina guard Tyasha Harris (52) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (Sean Rayford, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The big day is almost here for Rennia Davis, but it began long before now.

On Thursday night, Davis, a Ribault High product, will make history when she becomes the highest area player selected in the WNBA draft. The 6-2 wing from Tennessee is expected to be taken inside the top five, a monumental accomplishment in area history.

Davis going somewhere in the draft has long been assumed. She was one of the best four-year high school players in state history and continued that growth in college. That assumption started well before putting on the threads of the Lady Trojans and bringing the crowd to its feet on Winton Drive.

It started with Davis.

Long before anyone knew her name, she expected to be here.

When Davis first picked up a basketball at 9 years old, she told her mother, Sheretta, that she was going to play in the WNBA. In high school, when former Trojans coach Shelia Seymore-Pennick asked players to write down their goals, Davis wrote down the same goal.

She was going to play in the WNBA.

Davis always been quiet. She’s always been a bit out of her comfort zone with attention. And she’s always been laser-focused on getting here and beyond. Davis put the faith in her work ethic, trusted her coaches, heeded the words of her mother and made herself into arguably the best all-around player in area history.

“It’s been really exciting. It’s been a journey. A whole lot of ups and downs. This isn’t the end though, this is a just a steppingstone, really,” Davis said.

For an area player to be selected at all in the WNBA draft is a rarity. Only twice before have area players heard their names called in the WNBA draft, Ribault’s Erica White (17th to Houston in 2008) and Keystone Heights’ Monique Cardenas (53rd to Portland in 2002). A bit outside of the area in the South Georgia region, Charlton County grad Courtney Williams was eighth overall in 2016 to Phoenix.

Davis is one of just three women’s players in area history to earn McDonald’s All-American honors. Ribault icons Dorian “Shante” Stevens (2003) and White (2004) are the others. Davis is the only local product to be named a Jordan Brand Classic All-American. In college, Davis continued to flourish.

She started 116 games and played in 118 during her career in Knoxville. She averaged 15.4 points and eight rebounds per game in her career. Davis ranks ninth in Tennessee history in career scoring (1,815) and 10th in rebounds (947).

For Davis, this moment has been building up for a long, long time. Not that a history-making selection was a guarantee, but Davis almost seemed destined for stardom long before she became a legend at Ribault and continued that success at Tennessee.

Her mother, Sheretta, said that she remembers when Rennia first picked up a basketball. She was 9. Davis didn’t begin playing competitively until middle school, always more cognizant of her schoolwork than sports. But the passion, confidence and the drive were there from the outset.

“When she first started playing, she told me she was going to play in the WNBA,” Sheretta said. “She worked hard to get where she’s at. Nothing was easy for her.”

Ribault's Rennia Davis was a McDonald's All-American selection in 2017. (News4Jax)

She was initially attracted to Ribault for academics and the school’s early college program. Basketball was second. Sheretta said that she made it very clear that academics would always be priority No. 1 in the household and Davis took her up on that. She enrolled in the Florida State College at Jacksonville dual-enrollment program as soon as she was able to.

“Her mother just laid a tremendous academic foundation, as well as discipline and commitment. And I always believe Rennia’s mother’s value system has a lot to do with why Rennia never transferred,” Seymore-Pennick said. “Mrs. Davis just believes that this is your situation, these are your circumstances, and you make them the best that they can become.

“You don’t run from one place to another looking for the grass to be greener on the other side. And those type of strong roots and values that was instilled in his kid very young, is something that you can only embrace as a coach because that’s what you’re trying to teach. But you get a kid that already comes from those levels of expectations, your job is so much easier.”

Davis said that the foundation that her mother built things off of is a creed that she still lives by.

“She definitely pushed me. I’ve been through a lot of adversity. Went through a lot of adversity at Tennessee. That [upbringing] was huge for me. Stick things out. Things are not going to go your way a lot of times. Most of the time, things will not be how you want them to be. It’s about how you respond.”

On the court, Davis was an unassuming star early for Ribault. While she wrote down lofty goals and gave them to her coaches, Davis was quiet by nature.

Her game wasn’t though.

Davis helped the program win its 10th state championship during her freshman season in 2014 and took a larger role as a sophomore, but Ribault was knocked out in the state semifinals by Lake Highland Prep. That loss ignited the fire in Davis. By the start of her junior season, the fuse was lit and she never looked back. Davis and the Trojans thundered through the remaining two years of high school basketball, won back-to-back championships and claimed the DICK’s Sporting Goods National tournament title, too.

While the city has long known about the Trojans’ storied basketball tradition, the country saw that up close with the national tournament win. Davis said that stretch of basketball was a bit of validation for years of hard work.

And the Davis train had officially left the station.

The Ribault girls basketball team celebrates after winning the Class 5A state championship in 2017 with a 72-31 blowout of St. Petersburg Lakewood. Rennia Davis is shown holding the trophy kneeling down. (News4Jax)

She continued to evolve in college, playing a major role almost from the time that she set foot on campus in Knoxville.

Davis’ continued growth actually came more off of the court than on it. Her basketball skills have seldom been in question. But her coaches in high school and AAU always encouraged Davis to open up more and engage during her career. She was able to do that in increments in high school, but Davis said that she didn’t fully grasp that until more than halfway through her college career.

“I would say up until last year. I had a professor at school, Dr. James, and that [class] was one of the best things that happened at school. He helped me understand the importance of being vulnerable, letting people in,” she said.

“I had to get more into social media. That was a hard thing for me, but something I had to do. Kind of keep fans in the loop. Let them know what I’m up to. Helps build your fanbase. “Let them see my personality off the court. You see me on the court, you probably see me differently. I’m still head down and working, but I’m more interactive with people.”

Highest-drafted players from the region in select professional sports

A look at local players who have been selected high in professional drafts. Athletes from the South Georgia region have also been included.

Major League Baseball

Player, Round, Pick, Year, Team, Local tie

Chipper Jones, 1, 1, 1990, Bolles

Austin Martin, 1, 5, 2020, Trinity Christian

Major League Soccer

Player, Round, Pick, Year, Team, Local tie

Mac Cozier, 1, 10, 1996, Columbus Crew, Orange Park

Nathan Sturgis, 1, 12, 2006, LA Galaxy, Nease

National Hockey League

Player, Round, Pick, Year, Team, Local tie

Brian Ferlin, 4, 121, 2011, Boston Bruins, Bolles*

National Women’s Soccer League

Player, Round, Pick, Year, Team, Local tie

Morgan Brian, 1, 1, 2015, Houston Dash, Frederica Academy (St. Simons Island, Ga.)

Carson Pickett, 1, 4, 2016, Seattle Reign, St. Johns CD

National Basketball Association

Player, Round, Pick, Year, Team, Local tie

Kwame Brown, 1, 1, 2001, Washington, Glynn Academy

Roger Strickland, 1, 7, 1963, LA Lakers, Bishop Kenny

National Football League

Player, Round, Pick, Year, Team, Local tie

Gerard Warren, 1, 3, 2001, Cleveland, Union County

Ron Sellers, Paxon, 1, 6, 1969, New England, Paxon

Women’s National Basketball Association

Player, Round, Pick, Year, Team, Local tie

Courtney Williams, 1, 8, Phoenix Mercury, Charlton County

Erica White, 2, 17, 2008, Houston Comets, Ribault

Monique Cardenas, 4, 53, Portland Fire, Keystone Heights

* Indicates Jacksonville native, but moved for his last two years of high school

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.