June 2nd, 2016

Scott Davenport: hometown Hall of Famer

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Paul Najjar

Senior Writer


Scott Davenport: hometown Hall of Famer
Bellarmine head coach Scott Davenport to be inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame Thursday / file photo by Garry Jones

Louisville has grown its share of Hall of Fame athletes, coaches and other wildly famous folks: Muhammad born Cassius, Paul, Howard, Wes, Denny, Darrell, Diane, Pat, Rick and even Jennifer.

If they weren’t born here, the city adopted them.

Add the name Scott to that list.

Scotty; Scotty D. or Coach D; Scott Davenport answers to them all.

That name will be adorned on the walls of Freedom Hall, the walls with the plaques of all the Kentucky giants he’d seen, read about and committed to memory growing up.

The Fairgrounds sat just three miles from his childhood home. It was a destination then; for golf, figure-eight racing, baseball, basketball and the Twilight Drive-In.

It will be a destination for generations of Davenports to come to see his Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame plaque on the wall. His induction speech can only last seven minutes, so we’ll publish some of the stories he just won’t have enough time to tell at the ceremony.

His was a journey filled with twists and turns. Much like the well-worn paths he’d navigate to a friend’s house or a playground; a ball field or a cousin’s home; always with a purpose and usually with a basketball in hand. All within the shadow of two of his still-favorite places on earth: Churchill Downs and Freedom Hall.

Come take a ride with Scott Davenport navigating the streets of his youth; streets that paved the path to his Hall of Fame career. Keep a sharp ear because the memories get punctuated fast and furious and the tangential chatter all has a purpose.

The Trials of Travel –

From Frazier Elementary to Southern Junior High (now Olmstead Academy) to Wyandotte Park to Iroquois High School, Scott carried his community with him every step of the way.

“Southern (junior high) was close, but we still had to get the city bus to go to and from school,” he said. “We would get on a city bus and get dropped about six blocks away and then walk the rest of it. That was all good in the morning, but after practice the buses didn’t run as frequently. There was a little farmer’s market, grocery store where the bus picked you up. If you were in the store when the bus came, the bus was going right by you. So, the three of us, Mark Sims, Billy Pace and myself, used to huddle in the phone booth together to keep warm and make sure we didn’t miss the bus because it was a long walk home in that cold.

“Now, I don’t want to sound like someone’s great-grandpa, but if it snowed the buses wouldn’t run and you’d just have to hoof it home in the snow.

“In the summer, fall and spring, that building had no air conditioning,” he said of his junior high. “Three floors, over 1,000 students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades. It got so crowded they had portable classrooms which were literally trailers for students to go to class. I had Miss Webber in English class right there (pointing to a parking area on the grounds).

“You played every sport: ran cross country, played basketball, football, baseball. I think Billy, Mark and I were the only three kids in the school who rode the bus because everyone lived within a mile of it.”

A different era, to be sure; but the simple values instilled in his early days: be on time, be courteous, be respectful and be grateful, drive his otherworldly passion for friends, family, coaching, horses, the city of Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Mr. Wold – Part One

“I made the junior high team as an eighth grader and that was huge back then,” Davenport said driving through his childhood neighborhood. “Our coach’s name was Vernon Wold. He was one of the most meticulous guys. He was the best dressed, best groomed teacher in the school. Every game day was special to him so the players had to wear a shirt and tie. None of us knew how to tie a tie so we had to go to school early so he could tie our ties for us.

“He named his only son after me. He left us way too soon,” Davenport said before a pause and a heavy sigh. “I’ll never forget him.”

1:15 on Halloween

It was a Sunday afternoon, October 31 and the Bears and Browns were the 1:00 p.m. game on television. Davenport went to a friend’s house to watch. Not long after the game began he was summoned home. His father died at 1:15 p.m. of a heart attack. He was 45.

With his father’s passing, the family became closer and his mother and sister (Vicki) were front and center of his life at home.

“My dad was a worker,” Davenport said with conviction. “He would work at American Standard and he worked so hard. My last visual of him was seeing him cold, non-responsive.”

Fast-forward 36 years and Davenport meets with Rick Pitino for the first time after he’s been asked to continue as an assistant on the new coach’s staff.

“Coach Pitino said to me, ‘You lost your dad at an early age. You’re going to see (strength coach) Ray Ganong today. You can’t work for me and look like that. But, here’s the reason: what did your dad ever see you do? Did he see you win a championship at Ballard? Did he see you get married? Did he see you get hired at Louisville? Did he ever meet your boys Russ and Doug?’

“Coach Pitino knew the button to push with me was my dad’s passing. My body fat went from 23 percent to 8 percent in one year. I’ll always be grateful for coach Pitino’s knowledge and care of me and my family.”

All things Iroquois and Mr. Wold, Part Two -

“My life changed when I went to Iroquois. Mr. Wold walked us there one day to watch something in the afternoon. And I was like, ‘WOW!’ It was an incredible experience. He took us to the back of the stadium and I’d never seen it before because it was far away from where I lived. But I thought it was the biggest place ever when I was young.

“Just a few months ago I took my (Bellarmine) assistants Mike (Scott) and Beau (Braden) with me to show them the Iroquois gym I played in. We thought it was Freedom Hall back then. They couldn’t believe it.

“Now there’s some controversy about going to Iroquois. When I finished ninth grade the city re-districted the schools. I wasn’t supposed to go to Iroquois, but my sister Vicki was there already and my mom wasn’t going to split us up. She told the school that I was going to Iroquois and that was that.”

Though he’s never had a recruiting violation as a coach, getting into Iroquois might have been his introduction into working the system. His mother steadfastly insisted he attend Iroquois with his sister and the school district denied his hardship case. So she rented a furnished apartment in the Iroquois district for three months to make sure they he could attend Iroquois.

“I think the reason I’m such a big locker room guy right now is because we would stay in the locker room for two hours after practice. We would talk about the games, college basketball, whatever came up. It was our home away from home.”

He says all this with sports talk radio in the background on low volume in the car. Can’t help but think that that was his first foray into sports talk radio except the studio was a locker room and the audience was live.

“We would park our cars right near the locker room. First day I had my license I drove to school and Robbie Bates came up to me and told me I had to move my car because someone was leaving. He told me he’d move it for me. Now, Robbie Bates was a bit of a clumsy guy but I gave him my keys and wouldn’t you know it, he backed right into another car. I had my license all of three hours.

“I went home and slammed the keys on the TV set and my sister said, ‘How bad you wreck?’”

A Louisville fan growing up, Scott still has the autographs and the programs of the great teams and players from the 1960’s.

“I can put my hand on the old UL program right now and I’ve got their autographs: Wade Houston, Wes Unseld, Butch Beard, Fred Holden, Mike Grosso.”

His plaque will stand next to several of those guys whose autographs he treasures, not to mention two former players he coached to much success at Ballard: Allan Houston and DeJuan Wheat.

The Neighborhood -

1416 Thornberry was the address of his birth. 2425 Lindbergh was the modest apartment above his mother’s beauty salon where the Davenport’s lived for a few years. It housed him, his sister Vicki and his parents. Close quarters, but home for them and an easy commute for mom.

The family then moved to 1508 Central Avenue, still close enough to walk to the beauty salon.

Churchill Downs sat just a mile away. A couple more miles down Central Avenue, jumping between railroad cars at the old South Louisville Rail Yard, and he was at The Fairgrounds; a giant oasis of sport for a youngster from the area.

His world encompassed about a five mile radius or as long as his legs, and his ever-present basketball, would take him. And just as he carried his basketball with him, he now carries the memories of his neighborhood in his heart.

“They took out the azaleas!” he exclaimed as we arrived at his Central Avenue home. “I’m not kidding you; on Derby Day the limo cars would park down the road at Seagram’s and drive right past our home. People would always take photos in front of the azalea bushes.”

There was the half-dirt, half concrete driveway/basketball court with the old garage still there. The spot where he honed his jump shot still clear in his mind.

The Game That Changed Everything –

“I went to Georgetown College for a year because I thought I could get a chance to play basketball, but it didn’t work out. When I came back to Louisville I was playing a pickup game at Crawford Gym. There was a pickup game from Noon to 1 every day for just coaches and faculty.

“Didn’t matter if you were Wes Unseld or Darrell Griffith, the only guys playing from Noon to 1 were faculty and coaches. Burt Monroe, Bill Olsen, Ken Lindsay…they all played. I was in blue jeans, a tee shirt and Chuck Taylor’s at the time and a guy came up to me and asked, ‘Hey, we only have nine guys do you want to play the last game?’ So I played and the guy asked me if I’d ever played before and I told him I played for Iroquois. He told me that I should go meet with coach Jones (Jerry Jones) and walk-on the JV team. It was Bill Olsen who asked me to do that and it changed my life forever.”

The Coaching Roots –

“Coach Rupp was an icon in Kentucky so that was my first understanding of what a great coach was,” he said. “Coach Dromo and Coach Hickman were big time here as well.

“I was nine years old and my best friend was Larry Bishop. His dad had a second job supplying ice to all of the concessions at Freedom Hall. He took huge bags of ice on a dolly and delivered them to all the concessions. He got me in to all of those games and that’s how I got all those autographs of the UofL players. And that’s when I started reading the plaques of all the people in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.”

He coached at Ahrens Academy; was a Graduate Assistant with coach Crum at Louisville; an assistant under Mike Pollio at Virginia Commonwealth alongside Tubby Smith; he won a state championship in his 10 years at Ballard and then moved on to the one job he’d always wanted: Louisville.

“When coach Crum started at Louisville, every game was like a coaching clinic,” Davenport said. “You could listen to his pre-game show and learn so much. He was a swashbuckling type and had a fiery presence.”

Getting his first real chance at UofL wasn’t an easy path, as he was passed-over for an assistant’s job at UofL on two occasions. But he stayed the course, kept working the camps and got his shot in 1996. He served five years with Denny Crum.

When coach Crum retired and Rick Pitino came to town, Davenport was the first assistant that Pitino ever held over from a previous coach’s staff.

After four years with Pitino that culminated in a Final Four appearance in 2005, all of that preparation, all of the twists and turns in the road led him to Bellarmine. He’s 255-89 in his 11 years at the helm and his current contract will keep him at Knights Hall through the 2020 season.

No Division II program can match what Davenport and the Knights have accomplished in the last seven years.

Mom

His mother grew up in rural Green County. When she passed away several years ago there was a picture of her from her one-room schoolhouse. There were 22 students in the photo, grades 1 thru 6. Nineteen of the 22 students were barefoot.

“She was the most giving person to everybody,” Scott said. “She’d wash uniforms, make big breakfasts for everyone. When we’d go on field trips she couldn’t come with us because she worked, but she made sure to get Cokes for all of the kids out of her Coke machine at the beauty shop. It’s the way she was raised and it’s how she raised us, all of us including my friends.”

He’s missed her these past few years and if he gets the opportunity to ask God how he’s done in life, he wants to hear this: “You’re mom’s enjoyed watching you.”

Hall of Famer

He’s coached with two Hall of Famers, the “Coach Emeritus” Jerry Jones, Wade Houston and Tubby Smith. His coaching chops were honed in a five mile radius from where he was born and raised.

“These are all brilliant men, but even more than that coach Crum and coach Pitino are brilliant teachers,” he said. “Coach Jones taught me so much about coaching and life lessons through basketball. At their 50th anniversary they told me: ‘you were the son we never had.’”

He’s applied the lessons learned on the playgrounds, the old gyms and all of his stops along the way to forge an identity at Bellarmine University. Davenport’s brand of basketball is the Bellarmine brand and it centers on hard work, sacrifice and teamwork.

“The thing that caught my attention about Scotty all those years ago was his desire to learn about the game,” Jones said of his dear friend. “He always wanted to know why we were doing what we were doing. He wanted to absorb everything he could from the coaches. He’s very intelligent and wanted to get every detail correct whatever he was doing.

“But, without a doubt, his biggest key to success is his unique ability to convince young men that he’s trying to do what’s best for them,” Jones continued. “It’s more than just basketball. He’s going to do the best he can to make them the best player he possibly can and they believe that. His passion and drive to do the things the right way is tremendous.”

With Scott Davenport, there’s an endless amount of energy and a consistency with thought, word and deed that shows a remarkable ability to teach, to listen and to relate to anyone.

“I am the luckiest person who’s ever coached any sport, any level, male or female. Period. I’m the luckiest son, the luckiest husband, the luckiest father, all of it. To have Sharon, Doug, Russ and Ashley write my plaque and maybe show our grandchildren or great-grandchildren is so special and truly a blessing. To have one kid see that and be inspired to do something great, that is a tremendous honor.”

Scott Davenport is a hometown Hall of Famer. 

 

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