Penn women’s basketball seniors Katie Davis and Brianna Bradford could very well have ended up at MIT, the United States Military Academy or even the University of Hawaii.
Sometimes when a coach leaves a program, his recruiting class goes with him or decides to play elsewhere. And for Davis and Bradford, the man who recruited both ladies to Penn was gone before they even arrived on campus.
Former coach Patrick Knapp’s contract was not renewed after five seasons with the Quakers. He went on to coach as an assistant at Hawaii. In his place stood new coach Mike McLaughlin, taking the reins of a Division I basketball program for the first time.
During the recruiting process, Davis had been interested in MIT and West Point while Bradford considered playing at other Ivy League schools. The two ended up being recruited to Penn together at a camp where they formed a bond that has lasted for four years.
What drew the two to Penn was its academic prestige. Davis was interested in Wharton, while Bradford heard the School of Veterinary Medicine calling her name.
When the coaching change occurred, the new coaching staff called both girls.
“We got calls from coach McLaughlin, and he wanted to talk basketball, strengths and weakness. They wanted to engage us right away,” Davis said.
Although neither Davis nor Bradford has a career average of more than 3.4 points per game, they contribute in many other ways.
Davis, a native of Tampa, Fla., came to Penn as a Wendy’s High School Heisman nominee, the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Player of the Year, and having scored in double figures a remarkable 56 straight games.
“I have a great deal of respect for Katie. She has become a leader in her own way. She’s going to be highly successful when she graduates,” McLaughlin said.
Bradford, from Reservoir High School in Maryland, had her jersey retired by the school and was a McDonald’s All-American nominee. She was also an ESPN Rise Top-50 player in the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. area.
“Not one time in my four years here has Brianna ever given up on a play and that is really rare in sports,” McLaughlin said.
Despite all the accolades, the two seniors remain humble and bring leadership to the youthful Quakers squad. Neither complains nor pushes McLaughlin for a bigger role. Both Davis and Bradford have the same focus on putting the team first and winning basketball games.
“This is what college sports is about,” McLaughlin said. “When you have kids that were able to persevere through tough times to be a part of better days because of what they’ve done.”
The dynamic duo has been at Penn for a gradually encouraging time in program history. The Red and Blue have increased their win total each season that McLaughlin has been at the helm. Their freshman year, the team was able to register just two wins.
“It made us appreciate and savor every win that we got in later seasons,” Bradford said. “We could share with the other girls and tell them to treasure every game.”
The respect and admiration between coach and players is mutual. McLaughlin couldn’t help but smile and laugh when talking about his fondest memories with the seniors. Both women agreed that McLaughlin is “part of the spirit of the team.”
McLaughlin acknowledged that the duo is definitely special, as this is the first class to work with this coaching staff all four years.
“I’m going to miss them both individually for different reasons,” McLaughlin said. “But they’ll be forever on our wall in our locker room as we do with all our graduates.”