A 9-year-old or even 12-year-old Marisa Davis would never have imagined what an 18-year-old Marisa Davis could accomplish.
For most of her first 12 years Davis simply was surviving, living in East Texas with a birth mother falling deeper into a drug addiction. Her father, Charles Jones, won a custody battle, moved Marisa to Surprise with his wife, Laurie, and other children.
Now 18, Marisa is thriving. On June 1 she made a verbal commitment to study and play basketball at Duke University in North Carolina.
“Everything that is happening right now, I never thought it would happen to me,” Davis said. “Don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do something and don’t be a product of your environment. Where I came from, and where I am now are two different levels. How do you know what you can do if you don’t try it?”
And when she arrived in Arizona as a sixth-grader, she really had not tried it. Not basketball. Not any other sport.
Charles Jones said he asked family in Texas to keep an eye on Marisa and was told she earned good grades through elementary school. But when he took her in there were more basic problems.
Before she moved Marisa was kept away from her dad and told he did not want her in his life.
“I had to reiterate that I did always want to be there. Her mother did not want me in her life,” Jones said.
Marisa settled into the West Valley. After a brief trial run with volleyball, she took up basketball in middle school.
Despite her height and athletic gifts, she started the sport years behind skill-wise.
“At first I was kind of hesitant to play, and I wasn’t as good as kids my age,” Davis said.
During her first couple of years in Arizona, older sister Cerena Reeves was playing her last two seasons at Valley Vista.
Reeves became Davis first basketball mentor before heading off to college ball.
“Cerena was a hard worker that loved basketball. That made it very easy for us, to be honest,” Jones said.
By eighth grade, Davis was gaining notoriety for her ability to dunk. The University of Arizona offered her before she started at Valley Vista.
Still, she was very new to the sport and mostly getting by on natural ability.
The 6-1 Davis turned out to be the perfect fit as a freshmen for the defending 6A champions, who were led by senior perimeter stars Terrysha Banner, Taylor Chavez and Clarissa Rodarte.
Spending her freshman year in the post, Davis averaged 10.1 points and 8.5 rebounds a contest.
“She was very young to the game. As a freshman she understood her role,” Valley Vista girls basketball coach Rachel Matakas said. “That role has expanded as her game improved, with her shot getting better and her ability to drive.”
Davis was dominant in securing the Monsoon’s second straight state title, scoring 14 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in the 68-55 6A title game win in 2018.
One of Charles Jones’ favorite memories is a family trip to Six Flags amusement park after her first title.
“It was probably the best part of her game when she was young, because she was fearless,” Jones said.
She spent the next two years learning the game, whether from Matakas, her coaches with the West Coast Premier Nike EYBL team based out of California, and personal trainer Tony Miller.
It was not easy at first, as Davis was thrust into the role of creating her own shots as a sophomore. She still averaged 16.1 points per game that year, spearheading the offense of a 6A semifinalist along with freshman guard Jennah Isai.
“Coach Matakas has been pretty impactful. And I saw my game transform when I started going to Tony Miller. He definitely pushes me. I worked harder when I saw players that were bigger, better and have a high basketball IQ,” Davis said.
Matakas, a University of Central Missouri hall of famer as a post player, became another ideal mentor. The coach said she also had difficult moments in her childhood and could relate to Davis’ early-life hardships.
“I think Marisa and I were a perfect match of coach and player. She’s looking for people that have her back, and have some understanding of what she went through growing up,” Matakas said.
Davis arrived as a more-complete player in her recently finished junior season. With Isai recovering from a torn ACL, Davis took the reins of the offense and led the Monsoon to another 6A title.
Once again, she tipped the title game in Valley Vista’s factor, finishing the 42-38 slog over Chandler Hamilton with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Davis earned 6A Conference Player of the Year honors.
“My favorite moments have been watching her grow mentally in the game,” Laurie Jones said.
By setting up conditions for continuous basketball and academic growth, her family allowed Davis to realize her potential.
“They both have degrees and my dad is over here working three jobs — I have no idea how,” Davis said. “I know for a fact that they have put a ton of time and money into me.”
Jones said he looked for situations and coaches that would align with the family’s moral compass and help develop Marisa’s work ethic.
“We kind of aligned her with people that think like we do — blue-collar people that were going to have her work for it.” Charles Jones said.
In spite of that year-round play, Matakas said Davis has not become a basketball robot.
More often than not, she’s the one lightening the Monsoon’s mood.
“She’s very funny and brings a good, healthy vibe to the team. Kids send me pictures of her shooting outside in a onesie. She can always make people laugh,” Matakas said.
Washington State, Utah. Colorado State and Oregon State were among the 30-plus colleges that also offered Davis — and those four universities factored in to her final decision.
She said she was not worried about committing before her senior season started. COVID-19 wiped out her chance to visit the campuses, but Zoom meetings and phone calls helped her feel comfortable with the Blue Devils program.
“What really helped me with my decision was talking to everyone on the coaching staff and two of the girls on the team. Those girls have two more years there,” Davis said. “I didn’t really feel the need to have that kind of pressure. My parents were not pushing one way or another.”
Her dad realized Duke was on Marisa’s radar a couple years ago.
“When she really started to get into the game, Duke was the one school she would regularly record games of,” Jones said.
Davis said she plans on majoring in the medical field and becoming a Physician’s Assistant. She chose that because of a desire to help others.
She has volunteered in the Special Olympics and in an the adaptive camp. Davis said she also helps her elderly grandfather
She also has set the goal of playing in the WNBA and overseas, meanwhile practicing as a PA during her free time and once her basketball career is over.