Saturday, April 19, 2014

Victor Davila ‘a great ambassador’ for VT hoops

By Jimmy Robertson * Special to YadkinValleySports.com

It was roughly 30 hours before the tipoff of the final Virginia Tech-Virginia game of his career, and his teammates were practicing, going over UVa’s tendencies while rehearsing their own plan of attack.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski heaped praise on Victor Davila after facing the Hokies earlier this season. “I think anyone in the league would love to have Davila on their team, especially as a senior. He’s been in a lot of wars. I like him, a lot," Krzyzewski said.

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Victor Davila stood on the baseline, watching. Each time he moved, he resembled an older man instead of a strapping, young adult who turned 23 a week after the crack of the new year.

The pain in his left groin, injured in practice before the Clemson game, was only slightly less than the pain of sitting out yet another practice and missing yet another game. He realized, with great frustration, that the shot clock on his senior season was winding down.

“It’s been hard for me,” the soft-spoken Davila said. “I’ve never been hurt where I’ve had to sit out before. It’s frustrating. I wish I was out there with my teammates.”

Davila, Tech’s starting center, missed the UVa game after the pain became worse. He also missed the remainder of the season, including two ACC tournament games – eight total. The groin injury served to snap his streak of consecutive starts, a string that went back 64 games, and cost him the ending of what was turning out to be a fine senior campaign.

He had scored in double figures in four of the previous six games before the injury. That included a 16-point effort against then-No. 7 Duke in which he outplayed the Plumlee brothers. He scored 12 in a tough, home loss to BYU and 14 in a loss at Maryland.

But more importantly to Davila, he wanted to close out his career by playing a game in front of his parents, neither of whom had seen him play in the United States.

The Canovanas, Puerto Rico, native’s parents live on the island nation, but a round-trip ticket runs roughly $800-900 a piece at best, a little too pricey for them to make frequent excursions to Blacksburg. They planned to do so for senior day, but the groin injury scuttled those plans.

They never got to see him play in the States. Tech fans may not again either.

Not an NBA prospect, Davila nonetheless wants to play basketball overseas, but if that falls through, then he plans to get a job back home – in Puerto Rico.

Canovanas, Puerto Rico, sits not far from San Juan on the northeast corner of the island. For the most part, the area served as a great place to grow up, but like most locales, it suffered through its share of issues. Davila avoided the nonsense, though, in part because of the steady guidance of his family, particularly his older brother, Felix, who has remained a constant in his life.

“It was rough in a way,” Davila said of life in Canovanas. “You see all kinds of stuff. But I’m proud of the way I grew up. All the drugs and stuff like that, I didn’t pay attention to it. I was always focused on school and basketball.”

Davila started playing the sport that ultimately would guide him from the streets of Canovanas to the United States at a young age. He played on makeshift goals in the streets with his brother and his friends, and then his brother and his dad started taking him to his brother’s practices. His dad, also named Felix, introduced him to the coach, and Victor later became a part of the team.

How Davila wound up in the United States resembles a jigsaw puzzle. His brother, seven years his elder, actually made the move first, playing for a high school in West Virginia in an arrangement orchestrated by an AAU coach in Puerto Rico. That same coach helped Davila land at a Catholic school in Miami at the age of 14.

Davila’s mother, Carmen Ortiz, did not want him to leave, but his father wanted him to take advantage of the opportunity. Davila ended up spending his eighth grade year in Miami, living in an apartment with five older teammates – and no adults.

His mother begged him to come home, but Davila didn’t want to back out of a commitment. Not even a year later, the AAU coach found a better situation by using his numerous contacts. Davila wound up in Yadkin County in the home of two strangers – Donny and Pam Livengood, who ended up becoming Davila’s legal guardians.

Davila found the transition to the foothills of western North Carolina a little difficult at first. For starters, he knew very little English, and the Livengoods knew little Spanish. But the Livengoods have two adult daughters, and mindful of their experiences of dealing with teenagers, were patient and treated him kindly. Davila became comfortable with them, and a beautiful relationship ultimately flourished.

“Having a conversation was hard at first. I understood English a little bit, but after a couple of months, I started picking it up,” Davila said. “I had to adjust to a new coach and a different style of coaching, too. So I had to make an adjustment, and I got used to everything.

“It was great staying with them [the Livengoods]. I learned a lot from them, and they learned a lot from me. If I had to do it over, I’d do it all over again. They were like family to me.”

Before suffering a season-ending injury, Victor Davila (center) got to play close to his high school alma mater one last time, visiting Wake Forest. Photo courtesy Tim Weatherman.

It didn’t take Davila long to dominate on the basketball courts in that part of the state. Attending Starmount High, he sprouted to 6-foot-8 and put those skills honed on the streets of Canovanas to good use.
During his junior year, he averaged 23.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocked shots per game in leading Starmount to its first state championship game. In that game, played at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, he scored 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked seven shots. Unfortunately, Starmount fell 52-49 to a Cummings High team led by one-time Wake Forest standout J.T. Terrell and future North Carolina football star Dwight Jones.

“It was a great experience, but I wish I could have that one back,” Davila said. “I wish we had won.”

Davila averaged 20 points, 11.5 rebounds and six blocked shots per game as a senior. In September of his senior season, he decided to commit to Virginia Tech and head coach Seth Greenberg, picking the Hokies over Wake Forest, Charlotte, Appalachian State and Iowa State.

In doing so, he became the first Starmount player ever to sign with an ACC program.

“They [the Hokies] were the first to offer,” Davila said. “I had a good relationship with the coaches, and it was close by. It’s a great school, great community and great people.”

“I’d do it again,” he added when asked if he’s enjoyed his time at Virginia Tech. “In a heartbeat.”

His freshman year at Tech afforded him a rare opportunity to go back home to Puerto Rico – this time, on the athletics department’s dime. The Hokies played in the San Juan Shootout that year, and Davila’s parents got to see him play, the only time they did so during his time at Tech. He scored nine points in the Hokies’ win over Fairfield, and he grabbed five rebounds in 18 minutes in a loss to Xavier.

He suffered through the typical ups and downs as a freshman. He started 10 games, and he scored 16 points against Elon and 13 against Big Ten power Wisconsin, but toward the end of the season, his playing time went down dramatically. He scored just 14 points the final 12 games of the season.

Yet he ended up being a three-year starter for Tech. He did not average 10 points per game in any season, but remember, he also shared the court with Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen for three years, and those two launched quantities of shots. In the past two years, Davila averaged better than seven points and four rebounds per game, and he shot better than 50 percent in both seasons.

There were flashes of great play. Against then-No. 1 Duke last year, he recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in the Hokies’ 64-60 upset victory. This season, he scored 12 points against BYU, 14 against BC and 14 at Maryland. There was also the 16-point effort in the loss to the Blue Devils.

“Davila’s good,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after that game. “He’s just a strong, good player.

“I think anyone in the league would love to have Davila on their team, especially as a senior. He’s been in a lot of wars. I like him, a lot. He’s just a good, hard-nosed, clean player. And Mason [Plumlee] was up against it, and so much of that was Davila’s defense.”

Davila graduates in May with a degree in sociology. He hasn’t really thought much about a future career, though, because of his love for basketball and because he had spent so much time trying to get back on the basketball court one last time before his career ended.

He felt he had at least earned that, a final shot, if you will. His coach agreed.

“I wanted to see the kid finish his career on the court,” Greenberg said. “I thought that was important. He’s a good kid. He’s been a great ambassador for the program. It just kills you.”

Davila’s love of basketball motivates him to find a career in professional hoops overseas. The thought of working a 9 to 5 job is not that appealing to him. That may be self-serving to some, but at least he admits it. Ask him his passion and he tells you – basketball.

“If I have to get a job, I will, but I’ll probably hate it,” he said. “I want to play ball.”

If he works a job, it’ll be in Puerto Rico. Sure, he loves visiting his brother, who played at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for a year before returning home after his parents divorced. Davila’s brother now lives in Florida, and he visits him frequently. He also has an older sister who lives in Rhode Island.

But Davila misses his friends back home. He misses his mom’s cooking. And his dad’s conversations. And warm weather, with gentle breezes.

He’s enjoyed a solid career at Tech. No, he wasn’t a 1,000-point scorer or a 500-rebound guy. He was just a good, solid player – the type who will be missed when he departs.

“I think I did,” he said when asked if he had a good career. “I don’t get into the numbers and all that. I just play hard.”

Unfortunately, the injury robbed him of that during the final stretch of this season.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t rob him of what he really wants to do with his future.

Jimmy Robertson writes for Inside Hokie Sports, a magazine devoted to the coverage of Virginia Tech athletics. This story appeared in the March issue.

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