Rennia Davis’ rise to NCAA Women’s basketball stardom is not a surprise. When Davis was a freshman at Ribault High School in Jacksonville, Florida, eyes were on her, like moths to a flame. Now, as a senior guard for Tennessee, she hopes to reach new heights with a more than capable cast around her.
In 2013-14, Davis started for her varsity basketball team as a freshman. That year, she played in 32 games and finished with 12.0 points , 4.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game, according to MaxPreps.
Davis continued to improve every year she was in high school. Her senior year was a benchmark for high school women’s basketball. The guard finished the 2016-17 campaign with 26.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.9 steals and just 1.9 turnovers per game. Averaging a double-double, Davis led the Trojans to the 2017 state title.
Davis graduated high school ranking as the No. 3 prospect in Florida, and No. 43 in the nation. She also amassed a total of 14 Player of the Game awards through her four years of high school, according to MaxPreps, as well as being named MVP of the 2016 Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals at Madison Square Garden.
“The greatest lesson I learned in high school is the ability to win,” Davis said in an interview with The Florida Times-Union. “I was able to come to Ribault and understand the legacy that was there before me and embrace it positively. Being on a team that won three state championships and a national title was quite the achievement, and I plan on taking that same winning attitude to Tennessee with me as well.”
Davis provided a spark for the Lady Vols in her freshman season, averaging 12 points and 7.6 rebounds while starting 32 of 33 games for Tennessee. She also delivered in tournament play. In her first-ever SEC Tournament appearance, Davis knocked down a game-winning three with .5 seconds left in the game against Auburn. In the NCAA Tournament, Davis recorded a team-high 18 points while also taking on 11 rebounds in her team’s first-round win against Liberty.
Davis finished the season garnering national attention. She was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. She finished No. 11 in rebounding in the SEC and was second among freshmen.
Davis would continue to improve in college as she did in high school. In her sophomore campaign, Davis averaged 14.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. She got even better in 2018-19, the junior averaged 18.0 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game.
In her opening season as the Lady Vols’ head coach, Kellie Harper relied heavily on Davis to help groom the incoming freshman and to continue the winning culture of Tennessee women’s basketball.
Davis and her teammates led the new-look Lady Vols to a 21-10 overall record, and a 10-6 SEC record. Tennessee defeated then-No. 15 Notre Dame in the third game of the season. The Lady Vols won the first seven games of the season before falling to Texas, 60-66.
"Historically, one of the things that you can look at with Rennia's performances is you can see how she has improved every year,” Harper said. “I think she had a really good junior campaign, and what we would like to do is build on that. For her to take a really good season last year and even improve on that. She's finding a little more diversity in her game. She's gotten better at ball handling, she can really shoot, she can really score, and she's a great athlete. I've been really impressed with her defense this preseason. She's done a really good job on the ball and off the ball. … We just want her to be Rennia and just find small ways to be better each and every day."
Davis helped lead Tennessee to the third round of the SEC Tournament before falling to Kentucky. The Lady Vols were set for another trip to the NCAA Tournament before COVID-19 ended the season.
Tennessee had limited practice during the offseason because of the COVID-19 restrictions.
"Since March it has felt like so long, and I have been in the gym the whole time,” Davis said. “That's all we could do in the pandemic, and obviously we couldn't get in a gym immediately, but outside I was just working on what I could. I've been focusing on my ball-handling and just overall strength and conditioning, and I feel like we have needed to get stronger this year, so I have been working on that and doing pretty good at it."
The Lady Vols are expecting big things this season, despite the uncertainty around the schedule. Tennessee is bringing back four starters as well as three, four-star prospects and a first-team All-ASUN graduate transfer. And Davis is sitting in the middle of it all.
She’ll once again be called to lead a still young Lady Vol basketball team. However, while this team may be young, they gained vital experience last season, and each of the youngsters endured growing pains. They also had a player like Davis to look up to.
Questions have circulated as to what Davis is considering doing after the 2020-21 season with the NCAA granting all players an extra year of eligibility, but she isn’t focused on that.
"I'm not close to anything right now, but I am most focused on how we will do this season coming up,” Davis said. “I believe I have a lot of time to decide if I want to enter my name into the draft next year or decide on a fifth season, but today I am not as concerned about that as maybe other people are."
No matter her future, Davis will look to give Tennessee another year to remember. Her game plan, like in years past, is to improve. She rose to the occasion to lead in high school. She has risen to the occasion to lead in college. And she will rise to the occasion this year as well.
When this season ends, people will look to describe Davis in a multitude of ways. Three words may be all you need: leader, fighter and star.