BRANDON — Homeschooled Juliette “NiNi” Davenport, 9-year-old daughter of Lawrence (Larry) and Grace Davenport, will compete April 18 in the Elks Hoop Shoot National Finals in Springfield, Massachusetts, where basketball was invented.
To win that berth, NiNi made 17 of 25 free throws at the Brandon Elks’ local contest at the North Brandon Family YMCA, 18 of 25 at the district competition, 21 of 25 at the central Florida contest, 23 of 25 at the state competition and 22 of 25 at the Southeast Region Championship.
And she has been playing organized basketball only about a year.
She was born in Nanning, Guangxi Province, China, was adopted by the Davenports and moved to Brandon when she was 2.
She started out playing driveway basketball, shooting balls into a garbage can and using the garage door as a backboard. She joined a North Brandon Family YMCA recreational team at age 8.
“In her first-ever game and with her team down by one point, with 15 seconds left in the game, she got a loose ball and took it coast-to-coast to score the winning goal,” said her dad, who coaches her YMCA team for 9- to 11-year-olds.
In preparation for the Elks Hoop Shoot, she has trained weekly with David Zimroth, president of DZ Sports.
Basketball “is something she loves to do,” her dad said. “She’s a gifted kid who can observe something, process that in her head and then go out and execute it.”
For instance, NiNi attended a Harlem Globetrotters’ show in March 2014, where she joined them on the court before the game. She dribbled, passed and shot free throws, and then Globetrotter Scooter Christensen spun a ball on her finger. The ball fell off. He did it again with the same result. Then a buzzer sounded and they were ushered off the court.
“About two weeks later,” said NiNi’s dad, “we were practicing and she picked up a ball and spun it on her finger. ‘Where’d you learn to do that?’ I asked. She said, ‘The Globetrotter showed me how.’ It’s phenomenal. She can observe something for like 20 seconds, practice it and start to do it on her own.”
In other ways, “she’s a typical kid,” said her dad. “She doesn’t like vegetables and never met a Coca-Cola or Cheeto she didn’t like.”
She enjoys drawing, folding origami shapes, playing with Legos, doing card tricks and playing the drums and video games. She creates Mobius strips and copies video game screens onto paper to strategize how to beat them.
“She’s a special kid,” said her father. “I’m not saying this because she’s my daughter. It’s certainly not genetic. It came pre-programmed in her. She’s very talented and gifted athletically.”
The Elks Hoop Shoot National Finals will start at 9:45 a.m. April 18. Live updates will be available via the Elks’ shot tracker at www.elks.org/hoopshoot and Twitter at #HoopShoot.
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