By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Of all the accomplishments Jazmine Davis racked up as a freshman at the University of Washington last season, there was one area in which the 5-foot-7 point guard failed miserably.
She left very little room for improvement.
And so, as the Huskies officially enter Year 2 of the Kevin McGuff era Friday night — and Year 2 of the Jazmine Davis era — the biggest question is: What more can UW’s sophomore point guard possibly do?
“She’s just got to guard against complacency, quite frankly,” McGuff said this week as the Huskies prepared for Friday’s season opener against St. Mary’s. “She had such a great freshman year. … Now she has to challenge herself to continue to improve as a player.”
Davis has done just that. She spent part of the offseason working on improving her ball-handling, with UW assistant and former WNBA player Adia Barnes vigorously challenging her. Davis, whose strength was already a key part of her game, also spent a lot of time sculpting her body into even better shape. She worked with UW strength coach Rose Baker and learned under the tutelage of her uncle, personal trainer Ron Blakely, while in her hometown of San Jose, Calif.
Blakely, who typically works with football players and is currently training a professional boxer, put Davis through some of the toughest workouts of her life. The sessions reached a pinnacle when she spent a good part of one day running 14 miles — split into two seven-mile runs sandwiched around a workout that involved a plank, a thick chain and some throbbing forearm muscles.
“It’s just straight forearm work while you’re getting a core exercise in,” Davis said. “I would say that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
It’s all in the name of improvement, and Davis left little room on that front. Her freshman year included Pacific-12 Conference Freshman-of-the-Year honors, a spot on the All-Pac-12 first team, a UW freshman record 535 points, and a record nine 20-point games. She was a second-team freshman All-American and led the Huskies in minutes per game (36.2), 3-point percentage (36.7), 3-pointers made (66) and free-throw percentage (76.7) while ranking second in assists (75) and scoring (15.7 points per game).
Following that up is easier said than done. But Davis is motivated to take another step.
“A lot of people maybe thought that was a fluke, her getting freshman of the year,” senior teammate Jeneva Anderson said. “She kind of came out of nowhere, and maybe they don’t think she can do it again. But we all know she can.”
To Davis, the next step isn’t so much in terms of points and assists as much as it is her overall effect on the team.
“We have a younger team now, so the next step for me would be as a leader,” she said. “I’m only a sophomore now, and I had such a great year last year. So I think that after that year, I just need to lead my team, to lead us to victory.”
She put in extra time this offseason, knowing her role could be even more important as a sophomore.
“We lost a couple of bigs, so I figured that we would have to be in even better shape than we were in last year,” she said. “I would say that is why I really worked a lot harder than I did the previous offseason. I knew we needed to be faster, and I knew we needed to be a lot stronger. I tried to get my head start in.”
With Davis back and 2010-11 leading scorer Kristi Kingma returning from a knee injury that cost her an entire season, the Huskies have the kind of perimeter talent that would make most teams a legitimate NCAA tournament contender. But UW has plenty of holes up front, where 2011-12 leading scorer Regina Rogers and two other graduates left a huge void.
This year’s UW team will play a more up-tempo game that’s meant to feature Davis, Kingma and 6-foot-2 dual-threat post Talia Walton, who played in only one game as a freshman last season. McGuff said he hopes the Huskies’ speed will overcome any height disadvantages created by the graduations of the 6-foot-3 Rogers, 6-3 Mackenzie Argens and 6-1 Mollie Williams, as well as the season-ending knee injury suffered by incoming freshman Katie Collier, a 6-3 post.
In addition to Collier, the Huskies will play Friday’s opener without juniors Kellie McCann-Smith (personal issue) and Deborah Meeks (recovering from knee injury), while freshman Heather Corral is questionable because of several injuries. UW may have just seven healthy scholarship players if Corral is unavailable.
Yet McGuff has high hopes for this year’s team, and another trip to the WNIT would not satisfy his expectations.
“We want to be in the top half of the league,” he said of a Pac-12 Conference that projected the Huskies to finish eighth in the preseason coaches’ poll. “We’d love to be in the NCAA tournament.”
Davis knows that the injuries have tempered expectations, but UW’s top returning scorer won’t let that affect how she sees this season.
“With the team that we have, there are expectations,” she said. “But we just change the expectations. We still think it’s possible to go to the NCAA tournament.”
And to get there, Davis knows she’ll have to be even better than she was last season.
If that’s at all possible.