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Toughness, hoops IQ made guard one of Franklin’s best

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1987 Franklin Community High School graduate and Indiana All Star Michelle Davis photographed in her Central 9 Career Center office. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
1987 Franklin Community High School graduate and Indiana All Star Michelle Davis photographed in her Central 9 Career Center office. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

The last person who would categorize Michelle Davis as ahead of her time is Michelle Davis.

Request numerical specifics about her role on the Franklin Community High School girls basketball team from 1983 to ’87, and Davis likely won’t know.

That’s because the teenager then known as Michelle Baker, a 5-foot-3 mighty mite who made a practice of dribbling the Grizzly Cubs out of full-court pressure and into the win column, focused on team accomplishments.

How point guard of her.

“Winning two sectionals and a regional, that was large,” said Davis, 44, remembering Franklin’s single-class net-cuttings from her junior and senior seasons.

“I remember going around the town square with the caravan of cars behind us when we won,” Davis added. “I was very fortunate to be part of that generation. There is so much we accomplished.”

So valued were Davis’ skills as a floor general and defensive stalwart that she made the 1987 Indiana All-Stars Team despite finishing her career well under the 1,000-point barrier.

Playing before the introduction of the 3-point basket at the high school level, Davis still ranks seventh all-time in points (753), third in assists (355) and fifth in steals (219) among Franklin girls players.

“Michelle was probably in fifth or sixth grade the first time I saw her play and was a solid player from the beginning with a pretty high basketball IQ,” said current Franklin girls basketball coach Walt Raines, then a coach at the Boys and Girls Club of Franklin.

“She was doing some things skill-wise very few players of her time were able to do.

“From that end, Michelle set herself apart from other guards. Just an extremely good player.”

Born to break presses

Davis’ father, Stephen Baker, is the youngest of former Johnson County Schools Superintendent and intermediate school namesake Custer Baker’s nine children.

It’s Stephen who taught basketball to Michelle and her two siblings.

Michelle sponged as much knowledge as possible from her father, a guard for the Union High School Ramblers, who went on to play basketball at Franklin College.

“My dad was a great influence because his basketball knowledge seemed way above most,” Davis said. “I was focused on quickness, ball-handling and defense, which is how people tell me he played. He started coaching my teams the summer of my sixth-grade year.

“Later, when I would go on college visits he would go with me. It’s always been a very unique relationship.”

Stephen Baker was a 1961 graduate who played for the Ramblers during during Indiana’s golden era of hoops. Michelle takes enormous pride in the fact she later became a Ramblers guard after Union had become an elementary school.

When she to got high school, Davis played her freshman season (1983-84) for the late coach Cher Weatherman, and her final three for Cindy Lester.

As a senior, Davis averaged 13.8 points in leading Franklin to the championship game of the Ben Davis Semistate, where the Cubs lost to eventual state champion Noblesville.

Despite the setback, the simple fact the Cubs came so close to a state finals appearance at Market Square Arena earned them a fourth and final ride around town square.

The 1986-87 club also made history, converting all 26 of its free throws in a home game against Mooresville, a national record among girls high school programs even today.

Davis knocked down 10 consecutive charities, with best friend Debbie (Pruitt) Abel delivering eight. Four of their Franklin teammates combined for the remaining eight free throws.

“The thing about our team in general is we were very well-balanced,” said Abel, who teaches seventh-grade science at Clark Pleasant Middle School. “But Michelle would take a game over. She was definitely a go-to person. We grew up as best friends, and with her work ethic, she deserved everything she got.

“Michelle was just hard-nosed and had tenacity like no other. No one wanted to go against Michelle in a practice drill because they knew they would get beat up.”

Davis graduated with 10 varsity letters, having also run cross-country and track and field, and devoting the autumn of her freshman year to volleyball.

Playing at Ball State University from 1987-91, Baker, who earned her degree in elementary education, just missed dishing out 300 assists for her career with 298.

Still an impact player

Married and the mother to two high school athletes — daughter Stephanie is a junior basketball player at Roncalli, while son, Nicholas, is a freshman football player at Center Grove — Davis is employed as Director of Adult Education at Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood.

She’s been on the job since January 2013 after previously serving as Central Nine’s Dean of High School Students. Prior to that, she worked 17 years as a systems analyst for AT&T.

“There’s something new every day. The biggest challenge is I’m now over about 80 part-time employees and all of these different personalities,” Davis said. “That has been the huge learning curve.”

Davis credits her athletics experiences for helping build the leadership skills and self-esteem she exhibits today.

And though she’ll never take credit, Davis is one of many former girls basketball players Raines credits with taking the game to its next level in Indiana.

Airballs, turnovers, point-blank misses, deliberate offensive paces and shoddy defense were far more common when the sport became sanctioned by the IHSAA in 1975-76 than they are today.

Davis’ class were first-graders when this exciting new world opened up to it and to girls of comparable ages. They grew into basketball rather than waiting to pick up the sport in 10th or 11th grade.

“Michelle and those other good players of her era helped turn the corner for girls basketball,” Raines said. “Turned it from different to being in the same realm as the guy’s game.”

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