Holding the Fort-Davis: CSU lands Howard grad transfer

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On Friday, Cleveland State collected its fourth player from this summer’s transfer portal by receiving a commitment from Brooklynn Fort-Davis, a graduate transfer from Howard.

What does Fort-Davis do, besides present near-limitless opportunities for wordplay? Well, the 6-0 forward rebounds a ton, for starters.

In 2022-23, she pulled down 6.1 rebounds per game, after averaging 6.5 and 6.7 in the two previous years. Fort-Davis was even better in MEAC play, as her 5.4 defensive rebounds ranked sixth in the conference, and her overall count of 6.5 was 11th best. Those strong numbers helped lead to outstanding defensive metrics, including at least one defensive win share over each of her last three seasons, topping out at 1.6 in the recently-concluded campaign.

That will play nicely for a Cleveland State team that desperately needs to replenish its supply of glass cleaners following the graduations of Amele Ngwafang, Brittni Moore and Barbara Zieniewska, a trio that hauled in nearly half of the Vikings’ rebounds in 2022-23.

“I am always surrounded by people in the post,” Fort-Davis said in a feature on Howard’s website. “I am so close to people it’s a shame. I was taller than everybody and I relied on that at first, but since playing for Coach Ty [Grace], she put emphasis on effort because rebounds are free. It’s a thrill for me when I grab a rebound and cuff it because I feel like Michael Jordan. I am in the air and doing the Jordan sign.”

A Ngwafang comparison seems natural at this point, but it doesn’t entirely fit. Both players thrive on the rush of deciding the outcome of possessions and have uncommon will around the boards. But while Ngwafang accomplished that through raw power, along the national-leading number of trips to the free throw line that resulted from it, there’s a bit more art to Fort-Davis’ game. She finds ways to work around people instead of through them, and it’s not unheard of for her to knock one down from mid-range. Still, she finishes extremely well around the rim and gets plenty of opportunities to do so (her 9.6 two-point attempts per game last season were second in the MEAC) thanks to an intuitive ability to release off of defenders and present herself as an option.

Winning is another thing that jumps off of her resume. The Vikings seem to have made a concerted effort to target players with high-level success in this cycle: Mickayla Perdue came from a dual conference champion that advanced to the NCAA’s Division II semifinals, Grace Ellis made three straight trips to the postseason at Wyoming, including a Mountain West title and an NCAA Tournament bid, and Colbi Maples, while not enjoying the team success of the other two, has a long track record of playing well against high-major opponents (something a Horizon League champion will almost always do in the first round of March Madness). Fort-Davis fits that trend nicely.

Howard earned a dual MEAC title in 2021-22, taking down long-time nemesis Norfolk State in the championship game, then collected the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win in a First Four game against Incarnate Word. In that contest, Fort-Davis had 15 points and 11 rebounds, one of her ten career double-doubles, as the Bison took a brutally-tough affair where the margin never exceeded five points (their prize was top-seeded South Carolina two days later, which went about how you think it went).

This past season the Bison were unable to repeat, as NSU got revenge in the MEAC final, but not before Fort-Davis supplied a little bit of magic to Howard’s semifinal win over Maryland-Eastern Shore, scoring the winning bucket with 1.8 seconds remaining on a play that looks like a lot of her plays.

The Chicago native is graduating from Howard – often called the Harvard of HBCUs, for its elite academic standards – with a biology degree that includes a double minor in psychology and chemistry, while pulling in Dean’s List and MEAC All-Academic honors along the way. At Cleveland State, she will look to advance into the healthcare field as an occupational therapist or a physician assistant while using her final season of basketball eligibility.

With Fort-Davis now on board, CSU now has her and Ellis, along with Jordana Reisma, Faith Burch, and incoming freshman Paulina Hernandez to hold things down in the frontcourt. That matches the number the Vikings carried in 2022-23 (with Aminata Ly joining Ngwafang, Moore, Reisma and Burch). The backcourt includes Destiny Leo, Sara Guerreiro, Shadiya Thomas and Carmen Villalobos, with newcomers Maples and Perdue, two shy of the eight guards on the roster last season (possibly three shy, when accounting for Perdue’s eligibility situation).

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