From Houston’s Fifth Ward to TCU’s rising basketball star: The Kendric Davis Story

TCU guard Kendric Davis knows his brother is watching his games.

He’s not in the stands of Schollmaier Arena. Or on his couch at his home in Houston.

Instead, Paul Banks III catches Davis and the Horned Frogs’ highlights at the Fannin County Jail in Bonham.

Banks, a former Texas Tech cornerback, has been in jail for one year, getting caught up with the wrong crew in connection with ATM robberies. He was among 27 Houston residents indicted for the alleged crimes Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Plano. All the men charged are linked to the Market Street Money Gang (MSMG), based in the Fifth Ward area of Houston.

That’s the neighborhood where Davis grew up. That’s why he wears the No. 5 for TCU. And that’s why he’s as motivated as ever to use basketball to better his life instead of making the same mistakes as his brother, who faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

“It is very rough,” Davis said of his neighborhood. “My brother is in jail, so I try to use it as a motivation to make it out. I talk to him, try to make him hear about me while he’s in jail. He says they play our highlights a lot. It motivates me just to play better.”

Davis has been doing just that for TCU of late. He intends to take more strides down the stretch, and keep feeding his brother highlights, continuing with Saturday’s game against Oklahoma.

Davis has seen his role increase. He scored a team-high 22 points in TCU’s upset victory over Iowa State in Ames, Iowa last Saturday, and then scored 16 points in 36 minutes in TCU’s loss to Kansas on Monday.

TCU has played some of its best basketball when Davis is on the floor. He’s a budding star, an easy fan favorite. At 5-foot-11, he’s usually the smallest guy but he’s arguably the most fearless when driving the paint too.

“I watch a lot of Kyrie Irving,” Davis said, referring to the six-time NBA All-Star. “I come in here and work on finishes. But the main thing I like to do is get Kouat [Noi], Desmond [Bane], Big Kevin [Samuel] easy shots.

“Once Kouat or Desmond hit a couple shots on the outside, it opens up everything where teams can’t help as much. I like to get them going early to establish the tempo and then I know mine are going to come later on.”

Davis has sparked TCU’s transition game as well. The Frogs had 19 fast break points at Iowa State, and then 20 against Kansas. Prior to the Iowa State game, TCU had a total of 24 fast break points over six games.

“We were taking it out of the net and playing slow,” Davis said. “That’s not our game. So we’ve got to get stops defensively and just have more ball movement, more speed, pick up the tempo. That makes teams play us harder.”

It also frees up the TCU offense more.

Coach Jamie Dixon likes playing two point guards, and Davis’ emergence has taken the load off senior point guard Alex Robinson. The Frogs went through a stretch where they were searching for that on the heels of Jaylen Fisher’s departure.

“He’s helping me a lot,” Robinson said. “They have to pick and choose who they’re going to guard. His penetration helps everybody, honestly. It makes it easier for guys to be able to penetrate off of him, off of closeouts. Having another guy out there driving and kicking, it helps a lot.”

Dixon has said multiple times that Davis becoming more comfortable with his jump shot has coincided with his improved play. Davis pointed to the Kansas State game as an eye-opener as he shot just 2-of-8 from the field, capping a four-game stretch in which he made 6-of-24 field goals.

He’s been 11-of-19 in the last two games.

“After that K-State game, Coach Dixon said, ‘Just shoot it,’” Davis said. “If it’s a good shot, it’s going to go in. If it’s a bad shot, it’s a bad shot but you’ve still got another possession to play for.”

Added Dixon: “We’re excited, obviously. We knew he was good and he’s taken on the opportunity with guys being out and getting better at the same time. Sometimes guys get an opportunity, but they don’t improve. They stay the same.

“But he certainly has gotten better on both offense and defense.”

High school star

Davis’ rise hasn’t surprised his former high school coach, Ralph Barreras. Much like at TCU, Davis had a similar beginning at Sam Houston High School in Houston.

Injuries opened the door for Davis to play his freshman season and he never looked back. He had a standout career, leading Sam Houston to wins over teams that had players such as Kansas’ Quentin Grimes and current Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox.

“He’s played against some big-named kids who are bigger and considered to be better, but he’s found a way to help our team come out on top,” said Barreras, who coached at Fort Worth Arlington Heights in the mid-1990s.

“He’s always been the kind of kid who felt he was the best player on the court. He’s undersized, but he never feels that way. He competes at a very high level.”

That includes pickup games.

Davis joked that he and Grimes grew up in nearby neighborhoods, but never played together. They were simply too competitive.

That’s part of the reason why Davis never considered Kansas even though former Jayhawks standout guard Frank Mason tried to get him there. It’s also why Monday’s loss stung a little bit more for Davis.

“My senior year, Coach Dixon and Coach [Bill] Self were at the game and I beat Quentin Grimes that game,” Davis said, smiling. “It was always who was better. Always a chip on the shoulder.”

Looking ahead

Davis remembers finding out about his brother’s arrest on TV. It blindsided him and his family.

Banks and five other men were arrested in February 2018 in connection with a Laredo bank robbery, and the gang ties were later revealed.

“He was scared to tell us,” Davis said. “It’s just motivation.”

Davis credits his mother, Patricia Davis, for ensuring he didn’t go down a similar path.

“My mom has been my biggest factor, making sure I had everything, shoes, clothes,” said Davis, who has a tattoo of his mother’s name on his right forearm.

“It’s where I don’t even have to think about doing it.”

Instead, Davis is focused on becoming TCU’s winningest player. He’s joked with Robinson and graduate assistant Corey Santee that he isn’t interested in the all-time assists or points records after Robinson passed Santee for career assists earlier this month.

Davis simply wants to be the winningest player in TCU history. The Frogs have won 17 games so far in Davis’ freshman season. The most wins in a four-year stretch for TCU is 88 from the 1996-97 season to the 1999-2000 season under Billy Tubbs.

“I want the national championship. I want the rings,” Davis said. “If I get the assists and points, that’s cool. It comes with it, but I want the most wins in TCU history.

“I want to be able to have three consecutive Big 12 titles.”

Oh, and a degree from TCU.

Davis knows basketball isn’t the end-all for him. He’s a success story so far, going from the Fifth Ward of Houston to TCU to one of the rising stars in the Big 12.

“He’s a kid who’s had to work for everything he has,” Barreras said. “The Fifth Ward is not an easy place to grow up, but he’s used basketball to get where he’s at now. He’s always been focused on that. He’s always been a very committed and hard-working kid.”

Davis wants to make sure it stays that way, part of the reason why he chose a top academic school such as TCU. He committed to the Frogs as a sophomore in high school and never wavered.

“The ball is going to stop bouncing one day,” Davis said.

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