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Notre Dame's Riley Davis making a name for herself

12/23/2023, 2:00pm EST
By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

PHILADELPHIA — The flat screen TV hanging low on the kitchen wall was never safe. Not with Riley Davis around. She doesn’t remember. It was 12 years ago. The 5-foot-9 Notre Dame freshman guard was two then, still small enough for her mother Megan to hold her in her arms. Each time her dad, former Major League Baseball catcher and Malvern Prep great Ben Davis, was on then- Comcast SportsNet’s Phillies Postgame Live, Riley would wriggle free from mom, mow her chubby baby legs toward the screen, outstretch her tiny arms and hug dad’s image on TV.

Mom and dad provide the hugs in person after sitting courtside watching Riley now.

She is obviously blessed with a wealth of genetics, though it may not all come from whom you think. Ben was an amazing high school athlete at Malvern, a standout two-sport star and possibly the only athlete in the history of the Inter-Academic League who was MVP in both basketball and baseball, hitting an outrageous .514, going 36 for 70, with six home runs, and 37 RBIs his senior year. Ben was the second player selected overall (the highest ever for a baseball player in the Philadelphia area) in the 1995 MLB Draft and played six years in the majors.

But he may not even be the best athlete in his own home, Ben will admit. That’s because Megan, formerly Megan McGonagle of Sun Valley, was a two-sport star at Rutgers in soccer and lacrosse. In high school, she was a standout in soccer, basketball and lacrosse.

Notre Dame freshman guard Riley Davis is out to a strong start in her high school career. (Photo: Josh Velrin/CoBL)

Riley, her mother’s mini-me, is fortunate to have the best of both. She has dad’s penchant for offense, and mom’s sliding-eyes defensive awareness, a byproduct of being coached by mom in lacrosse.

In Notre Dame’s 50-26 win over Nazareth this past Sunday in CoBL’s Winter Classic at Jefferson University’s Gallagher Athletic Center, for example, Riley dropped a game-high 16 points, though she also picked up five steals and six rebounds. They're the type of performances that have been piling up in a 6-2 start.

Riley, the third of Ben and Megan’s four children, does not recall the times she would hug her dad on TV. She does, however, remember the first time she had a ball in her hands, around five. And she knows where her defensive acumen comes from—“definitely mom,” she said, laughing, “dad, I know, liked to shoot (laughs), but defense, that comes from being coached in lacrosse by my mom. I always wanted to play lacrosse in college, but my first year of playing AAU (basketball) was in seventh grade. I started realizing I liked playing basketball in eighth grade. I beat my dad playing HORSE a few times and my (older) brother Tague (a high-level MLB prospect committed to Louisville) used to beat up on me all the time (laughs). As I’ve gotten older, it’s really cool realizing who my parents are and where I come from.”

Though she is adjusting to her new world as a freshman varsity starter, Riley’s court intelligence belies her age. Her mom, however, claims that comes from natural instincts.

“Riley has always had great court sense and great field sense. She’s been like that since she was little,” Megan said. “It’s something that’s not taught. Playing at the varsity level, she sees the game fast. She’s a midfielder in lacrosse, playing both offense and defense, and that translates to how she plays basketball. If I went back into a time machine, she would get me. I might sneak in an elbow to slow her down (laughs), but her offensive game is far better than mine ever was. Riley plays both sides of the court. My focus was strictly defense. I couldn’t jump like Riley, either. She’s still growing. We’ll see where this goes. She’s just 14. I’m just happy she is having fun. That’s the biggest priority for me and Ben.”

Notre Dame coach Terry Mancini finds himself shaking his head every day in practice over some move or play Riley made. He says she does have a good feel for basketball and her future is limitless. He also pointed out that having genetics is one thing. Fulfilling them, which Riley is in the process of doing, can turn out to be something different.

Riley proved early that the genetics fit the talent.

“When Riley was in seventh grade, she came to one of our camps we had for the high school girls, and she was head and shoulders above a lot of the girls who were high school varsity players,” Mancini said. “You could see it then. For a 14-year-old, she’s very strong. That’s a key. Most 14-year-olds are still growing into their bodies. She’s very coachable, she’s team-oriented and not a selfish player. She can play three positions and she can defend three positions. As a freshman, it’s great to see. And she’s still growing.”

Looming ahead for Riley is a problem, a big problem most high school athletes would envy: Making a choice, as a Division I lacrosse player or D-I basketball player. Or maybe both, if that rare possibility presents itself considering the seasons overlap.

It’s a dilemma Riley is more than willing to put on hold for the next three years.

In the meantime, there is a chance some day in the future when either mom or dad may be prone when no one is around to hug the TV screen Riley is playing on.


Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.

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