How Arkansas Recruit Jordan Danberry Made Wins Multiply
As the granddaughter of a pastor, Jordan Danberry has been on the receiving end of sermons practically her whole life.
But it wasn't until she and teammate Christin Rogers decided they should give preaching a shot that their Conway (Arkansas) team got hot this past season, winning 11 straight games en route to the team's first state title since 2008.
And with wins miraculously multiplying, everyone around the team commanded "Thou shall not stop."
"Before games, Jordan and Christin pretend they are preachers," teammate Kianna Speight said. "Jordan paces around in the locker room, talking about how we need to rebound or not turn the ball over, and then Christin will add something in a funny way.
"It's motivational for us and takes pressure off the team because we laugh and have a good time."
Can we get an "amen"?
Danberry, whose grandfather Odie Phillips preaches at Greater Fellowship Christian Church in Conway, said the idea started when Conway coach Ashley Nance told the players they would have to do extra running at practice for every turnover on offense and every uncontested shot they allowed on defense.
"We wanted to avoid that," Danberry said. "One time, [Nance] came into the locker room for her pregame talk, but we had to tell her 'not yet.' We hadn't finished preaching."
The sermons worked, and basketball experts far and wide have become believers in Danberry.
The 5-foot-8 point guard and the No. 44 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz class of 2015 is both a talented player and a team leader. Last week she committed to the University of Arkansas and first-year coach Jimmy Dykes.
"I wanted to play for my home state and be the one who takes Arkansas to the Final Four," said Danberry, who had listed Oklahoma State as her other finalist. "Instead of going out of state for college and being known as 'that player from Arkansas,' I chose to be Arkansas."
Danberry averaged 15.7 points, 6.5 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 2.7 steals last season and became the first girls' basketball player from Conway to be named the state's Gatorade player of the year.
Danberry is still trying to perfect her 3-point jumper, but she is tough to stop when she wants to drive, said her AAU coach, LaShanta Johnson of the Arkansas Mavericks.
"She squeezes and spins through tight spots," Johnson said. "And can either score or deliver a crisp pass to a teammate."
Despite her talents, Danberry went 21 consecutive games -- from Dec. 14 to March 8 -- without scoring more than 20 points.
"Jordan is a true point guard who sees the floor really well and reads defenses," Nance said. "But sometimes she is too unselfish.
"From her sophomore year to almost the end of her junior season, we kept telling her: 'Jordan, there are times we need you to take the shot.' "
Danberry finally heeded the message in Conway's final three games, when she totaled 71 points and was named MVP of the state tournament.
"Jordan is one of those kids who can take over a game just about any time she wants," Nance said. "And in those last three games, she took over."
Danberry, who has a 3.39 GPA and aspires to work for the FBI, is a humble 17-year-old off the court. She works with special needs children on a volunteer basis and rebels against anyone who tries to give her better treatment just because she's a basketball star.
But on the court, she has some swagger to her game.
That was made clear in the final minutes of the state semifinal win when she formed a circle with her teammates in a players-only huddle. Danberry kept pointing toward a spot on the court, and later it was revealed what she had told her teammates.
"I told them: 'Right there is where we are going to take our team photo once we punch our ticket to the state final,' " Danberry said. "I told them: 'We've come too far to lose now.' "
That 71-55 win over West Memphis set up what Danberry said was "the greatest day of my life."
The date was March 13, and it was altogether lucky for Danberry, who at 12:30 p.m. received the news that she had won the Gatorade award. Later that night, she scored 25 points to lift her team to the state title with a 74-67 win over Northside (Fort Smith).
Nance, not wanting any distractions before the big game, had hoped to keep the Gatorade news from leaking until after the final. But once a local reporter put it on Twitter, Nance felt compelled to tell the team.
What happened next showed why Nance and others rave about Danberry's maturity, humility and grace.
"She stood up in front of the team," Nance said, "and she told the girls that she would not have won the award without them."
Heading into her senior season, Danberry covets more. Her goals for the upcoming season include an undefeated season, a second Gatorade award and a spot on the McDonald's All American team roster.
Conway is loaded for 2014-2015 as Nance returns every player who scored a point last season, including Danberry and shooting guard Alexis Tolefree, who led the team in points (19.1) and was named the state's sophomore of the year.
In addition, Speight, a combo guard who led the team in scoring in 2012-13, is set to return after missing last season with a knee injury.
Danberry said Conway's five starters and top two reserves have played together since third grade, when her grandfather Phillips coached them on their Lady Bears squad.
"We're going to be 10 times better this year than last year," Danberry said. "We have grown even closer after winning state."