Cincinnati women's basketball star Dayeesha Hollins could have played basketball almost anywhere, and did, but none complete her dream like shining in front of her family in Cincinnati.
[DePaul (14-5, 3-2) vs. UC women (8-9, 0-4) at Fifth Third Arena, Tuesday night, 7 p.m.]
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- When Dayeesha Hollins runs onto the Fifth Third Arena court tonight against DePaul, she knows exactly where to look to find her family in the stands. They're in the same spot every game. Her mom, dad, cousin, and occasionally her 19-year-old brother sit directly behind the bench. They never miss and typically witness quite a show.
Hollins enters tonight leading UC with 16.4 points per game. She saw a streak of 26 straight games scoring in double digits snapped one week ago at USF. She recently scored her 1,000th career point against Belmont on Dec. 21.
All the accomplishments on the court don't mean as much as the moments with her family off it for the girl they call Day, the undeniable best player for the Bearcats. That's why she's here. Even through rough moments Hollins and the team endured during ups and downs of the season, she always can look up to the same spot in the seats and the sight elicits her signature smile.
Originally, the Winton Woods High School product chose the bright lights and national rankings of Michigan. Hollins thrived, averaging 12 points and 3.4 rebounds a game and becoming the first Michigan player to record 100 rebounds and 100 assists as a freshman. She was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team for 2009-10. She thought the campus was beautiful and liked her coach.
For all going right, one aspect felt dead wrong. Family means the world to her and the strain of distance for her mom, dad and others to travel to every game wore on her. As the end of the season drew closer, Hollins found herself wanting to be home.
"Towards the end of the season it got a little tougher," Hollins said. "We were still winning, but when we lost games, it was hard for me because there were times when I wanted to be home at those crucial times where I wasn't just myself and happy."
Through those hard times, her mother was always the one to comfort her, even if there wasn't a game.
"She didn't like losing, so she would get really emotional and missing her family," said Sharon Hollins, Dayeesha's mother. "I would have to go up on other weekends besides games."
Even when she decided to attend Michigan, she factored in her family traveling the nearly four hours to games and how far they would have to go. Her family only missed three games during her freshman season, despite the long drive. Hollins said they would come to the games and usually stay for a weekend. And of course, bring food.
No game more reminded her of how rewarding playing in Cincinnati could be than Michigan's trip to play then No. 8 Xavier at Cintas Center. Her family and friends filled an entire section and watched as she scored 22 points including the game-winning shot for a Michigan upset.
"It was loud," Hollins said. "After the game, I got to stay and hang out with family. It was cool. Then that Sunday I went back to Michigan."
She realized she wanted that opportunity to hang out with her family and friends after every game she played. She finished the 2009-10 season at Michigan and received permission to transfer.
Meanwhile, Jamelle Elliott just finished her first year at UC. She had no idea about Hollins or the type of player she was until an assistant told her Hollins was thinking about transferring from Michigan to be closer to home.
"It was almost like a Christmas present," Elliott said. "I didn't know about her, I didn't know she was looking to transfer, and I didn't know that Cincinnati was going to be the first school on her list. She just dropped right in our lap."
Elliott and her staff didn't have to watch video on her to know she was going to be a special player. They looked at her statistics from Winton Woods and Michigan and discovered more about her via word of mouth from coaches around the league and in the area.
Per NCAA rules, she sat out the first year. Regardless, she still made an instant impact. She was able to challenge other girls in practice, especially Shareese Ulis, the point guard at the time.
"She instantly became our best player," Elliott said.
This season, teams figured out Hollins is UC's best player and have stepped up the defensive pressure against her. She's responded to the challenge, but not without obstacles.
"Not only are they trying to shut her down, but they're beating her up," Elliott said. "She's getting hit. Last game it was her ribs, she's had an ankle injury, she's had a head injury. She's not the biggest player in the world, so for her to accomplish that [26 straight games with double-digit scoring] while still not only having to play against the team's best defender every game; I think that really says a lot about how not only physically tough she is, but mentally tough that she is to be able to take that and still have the mental capabilities to make the shot when we need her to step up and make a free throw or get a stop when we need it."
Hollins also finds it taxing to be pushed around, but understands it comes with the territory of being the best player.
"It gets frustrating after awhile," Hollins said. "Game comes around and I'm just always on the floor. It's tough."
Whether it's in Fifth Third Arena, at Akron or in Hawaii, her family has traveled to all her games cheering her to victory or consoling her in defeat. They are her support system and she loves every minute of it.
"With us, family is big and it's always been us four," Sharon said. "We're kind of like the four musketeers, so we're really close, we do a lot, we've always done a lot together and really supported each other. So I've always known how important it was (to Dayeesha)."
Many athletes would choose the bigger school and the spotlight. Not Hollins. She is happy she was able to trade the spotlight for family. Sure, she sometimes misses her former Michigan teammates and still maintains contact through Facebook or phone calls with some of them. But, as soon as she sees her family waiting for her when she walks out of the locker room after a game and leaves for a home-cooked meal, she knows she made the right decision.
The smile on her face says it all.