Challenged to compete

More news about: Methodist
Davion Ayabarreno
Davion Ayabarreno has scored in double figures in every game this season for Ayabarreno and has scored 20 or more 10 times.
Methodist athletics photo

By Brian Lester

Every weekend, from sunrise until sunset, Davion Ayabarreno could be found on the only basketball court at the military base he lived on in Japan from the age of 7 until he turned 13.

His mother was out there with him a lot of the time, testing her son’s athletic limits, across a variety of sports.

“We’d be doing football drills, too, and really anything else to keep me out of trouble,” Ayabarreno said. “She knew I loved sports and that’s all I did growing up.”

Not only did his mother help influence his career, but the Methodist University star also learned a great deal from his grandmother, a former high school basketball standout in North Carolina.

In fact, he credits her for inspiring him to get into basketball. For the record, she didn’t make it easy on him during shooting drills.

“It was extremely tough, and we still do them to this day,” Ayabarreno said. “Growing up in Fayetteville, there is a lot of country and we didn’t have a lot of access to gyms, so we’d shoot a lot outside.”

Those daily workouts certainly helped shape him into the hoops star that he is today, the player who led the USA South Athletic Conference in points (568) last season and is averaging 18.8 points per game this year for a Monarchs team that is 15-5 overall and a contender for an NCAA tournament berth.

But he gained so much more than lessons in basketball from the experience.

“I learned you have to work hard to get what you want. You just can’t show up and expect things to go your way,” Ayabarreno said. “You have to invest in things, and I knew if I wanted to be good in basketball, I had to work at it.”

That goes for school as well. When he was younger, his mom would take basketball away from him if he didn’t keep is grades up. During his first couple of years of college, he admits he struggled academically, and his mom’s warning ignited his drive to get things in order in the classroom.

“They saw me slacking a little those first couple of years and told me if I don’t get my grades up, I won’t be playing anymore,” Ayabarreno said. “I wasn’t fully invested like I should have been and realized I had to invest in school more if I was going to be successful.”

Even now, as he enters the final stretch of his college basketball career, Ayabarreno is still working as hard as ever to be the best he can be, his focus locked in on leading the Monarchs back to the championship game of the conference tournament.

A year ago, Methodist was the runner-up after losing to LaGrange in the title game and did not make the NCAA tourney.

“He is working on all aspects of his game all of the time. He is a gym rat,” Methodist head coach David Smith said.

But that is what makes him so tough to slow down. Ten times this season, the senior forward has scored 20 or more points in a game. He has 375 points in all and is shooting 51.6 percent from the floor.

“He’s a great offensive weapon and can score in so many different ways. It creates matchup problems for other teams,” Smith said. “No one has really stopped him this year. It’s just that we are such a well-balanced team.”

After averaging 20.3 points per game a year ago and emerging as one of the best players in the conference, Ayabarreno went into this season as a player teams weren’t going to lay off of.

“I’ll talk to other coaches before the game and they’ll tell me to be ready, and I have friends in the conference that let me know they are going to be denying me today,” Ayabarreno said.

“Defenses are always throwing a lot at me and I have to adjust. But the great thing is when I can’t score, my teammates step up.”

Being tested is nothing new for Ayabarreno. While in high school in North Carolina, he faced off against former Duke star and current Los Angeles Laker Brandon Ingram, who played at Kinston. Ayabarreno was at Northside in Jacksonville.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “We guarded each other and the first time we played we each scored around 20, but that second time, I didn’t do as well. It’s surreal to see him in the NBA and I wish him the best.”

Ayabarreno is thankful for the opportunity he’s had to play at Methodist and is confident this team, the preseason favorite to win the conference, is more than capable of winning a USA South tourney title and making a deep run in the tournament.

Capitalizing on that potential comes down to one thing for a Methodist team in the midst of only its second winning season since 2007-08.

“We have to compete every day and have heart and passion for all that we do,” Ayabarreno said. “Whether it’s in a drill in practice that we don’t like or a game that we aren’t as excited for because it isn’t a big one, we have to challenge ourselves to compete. I feel like when we are all in, when we are all invested, we can be one of the best in the nation.”

Regional Notes

Underwood in elite company

Dimitrius Underwood catapulted himself into elite company Saturday, becoming the second player in ASC history to record more than one career triple-double. Underwood poured in 20 points, snagged 10 rebounds and dished out 10 assists as he helped Texas-Dallas roll past Belhaven 98-78. His triple-double is only the 14th in league history and just the third in program history. He is averaging 17.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per outing and has handed out 65 assists. Underwood’s performance helped lead the Comets to their sixth consecutive victory. The win is their 15th of the season, including their 11th in conference play. One of six Comets in double figures, Underwood helped lead his team to its sixth 20-point win of the year.

Whitfield making a great first impression

Keauna Whitfield is only a freshman but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the best players in the ASC. Whitfield recorded her 11th double-double in the Yellow Jackets’ 73-62 win over University of the Ozarks on Friday. She finished her night with 10 points and 12 rebounds and helped LeTourneau win its first conference game of the season. She averages 13.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and is the team leader in steals as well with 32.

Freund fuels Maroons to another win

Once barely above .500, Roanoke is on a roll. The Maroons won their fifth consecutive game Saturday, defeating Shenandoah 85-76. Josh Freund played a pivotal role in the ODAC victory, leading the way with a double-double. He torched the nets to the tune of 31 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. A junior forward, Freund is averaging 18.3 points per outing and shooting  65.5 percent from the floor. Saturday marked the third time he has hit the 30-point mark in a game this season.

Historic win streak for Ladies

Centenary’s win streak reached four games Saturday and that’s a big deal for the Ladies, who accomplished the feat for the first time in 35 years with a 67-55 win over Colorado College. All four wins during the streak have been by double digits. The late-season surge has put the Ladies in a position to make the conference tournament. Once with little chance to advance, Centenary’s magic number to clinch a spot is now at two. The Ladies can clinch a berth with a win over Texas Lutheran Friday night and could be third seed if they win both of their games and Southwestern loses to Austin. Savanah Doty connected four times from beyond the arc in the win over Colorado College. She finished with 14 points. She is averaging 9.9 points per outing and has blocked a team-best 40 shots. She holds the single-game blocks record at the school with seven. Jasmine Morris added 13 points in the win. Morris averages 11.2 points per outing, and last month, she became the fastest in program history to get to 1,000 points. She did it in 68 games, 14 fewer than all-time leading scorer Alexis Pettaway.

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 15 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for and wrote the book Perfect Run as No. 1 about the 2009 Division II men's basketball champions University of Findlay. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.