Centers of Attention
Nov. 6, 2006
Iowa sophomore Megan Skouby and Ohio State senior Jessica Davenport have a lot in common.
Both are tall, dominating centers in the Big Ten. Both were named the conference's Freshman of the Year in their respective seasons. Both posted double figures against each other in both regular-season matchups last year. Both ranked in the top five in scoring last year in conference games and both were selected All-Conference. In fact, both were recently named to the Preseason All-Big Ten squad prior to the 2006-07 campaign. Both hail from populated cities in the state of Ohio and both prefer to just chill and surf the Internet during their time off.
One is on top of the conference and determined to stay there, while the other is anxious to know what that feeling is like.
Needless to say, both Davenport and Skouby will be the "centers" of attention this season.
When Davenport was honored as the coaches' selection as the conference's top freshman in 2004, an award she shared with the media's pick in Purdue's Katie Gearlds, Ohio State finished third in the Big Ten. The 6-5 center averaged 12.5 points on 63 percent shooting during her impressive freshman season. Since then, Davenport has led the Buckeyes to back-to-back Big Ten Championships and is the reigning two-time conference Player of the Year. Should she follow suit in 2006-07, the two-time All-American will become the first player in Big Ten history to win three Player of the Year awards.
"It's incredible to be up against those odds," a humble Davenport said. "There have been so many great players, past and present, in this league, but my coaches, teammates and myself have put in a lot of hard work and I just think (the individual honors) are a reflection of that."
A native of Columbus, Ohio, Davenport did not have to travel far from Independence High to Ohio State. The National Player of the Year candidate notes that moving and playing far away would have been difficult for her and she enjoys having the opportunity to play in front of familiar faces.
"Having family here definitely made the transition from high school to college a comfortable one," said Davenport. "My parents, sisters and even my old coaches are able to come and watch every game."
Family is of the utmost importance for the OSU senior. While meaningful quotes don the walls of her bedroom, Davenport looks to her parents for inspiration. Father John and mother Marlene most likely look right back. Their daughter is the first in the family to attend a major college.
And what a major impact she had so far.
For Skouby, a native of Mentor, Ohio, a large suburb of Cleveland, the Hawkeye sophomore found similar success in her first season as well. The 6-6 center posted 14.3 points on 55 percent shooting overall as a newcomer, but averaged 16.8 points in conference games last year, which was fourth best in the Big Ten. Her total was the highest output by a freshman since Penn State's Kelly Mazzante averaged 19.7 points in 2000-01. Davenport netted 13.1 points in her first conference season. Skouby was the conference's consensus Freshman of the Year and was named to the second team All-Conference by the media and the third team by the coaches.
"Those were obviously big honors for me last year," said Skouby. "I didn't have a major role at the beginning of the season, but as the year went on, I felt like I proved myself and showed what I could do."
Skouby's role changed overnight when the Hawkeyes lost Stacy Schlapkohl to injury on Dec. 23 of last year. Schlapkohl started all 11 of Iowa's non-conference games before sustaining a season-ending ACL injury to her right knee in the first half against Creighton.
"My role changed instantly when Stacy went down," Skouby said. "For the first two games it was quite a learning experience, but after that, I got into the mentality of being a starter and was able to go out and contribute a lot to the team."
Both players admit that they have not had a whole lot of time to talk to one another outside pregame warmup, but both are respectful of the way the other plays the game.
"Megan's a great player and I like how she is used in the offense," Davenport said. "Iowa uses the post position really well and she is learning under a great coach."
Skouby went as far as to mention in her media guide bio that Davenport is the toughest player she has ever faced.
"A great player who is tough to stop on defense," said Skouby when asked about the conference's top standout. "You have to keep her away from the ball, but it's tough to do because she is so strong. I feel like it is the same for me on the offensive end. Once I get the ball, I'm going to the basket."
Davenport's play has often been critiqued by Skouby and the Hawkeye coaching staff.
"There have been a few times where we have gone into the film room and broken her down," Skouby said. "She stays wide in the post and that is exactly what I need to do. I look at her and what she can do on the court and know that's where I need to be."
Oddly enough, Davenport admits to watching Skouby and other post players in the film room whenever she gets a chance.
But both Big Ten standouts turn in their remotes for a spot on the couch in front of their laptops when home from practice. Both also note that their calm demeanors and laid-back lifestyles make it easy for them to do a "whole lot of nothing," as Davenport said with a smile.
Perhaps it is a little premature to predict the final chapter for Davenport in the Big Ten history books and exactly how much Wite-Out Skouby has in stock. The similarities between the two though, can definitely make one wonder.
What we do know is that both will do whatever it takes to lead their respective teams to a Big Ten Championship this season. Both will greet each other with a brief "hello" during pregame warmups when they meet this year.
And no matter the preseason honors, the postseason awards, or all the media hype in between, one thing is certain as the women's basketball season gets underway in 2006-07.
Both Davenport and Skouby will be the "centers" of attention.