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Not an All-Male Club : Jeanine Davis Fits in Fine With the Boys on the Oak Hill High Basketball Team

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Junior forward Mario Loffredo admits that he despised the girl who tried out for the Oak Hill High boys’ basketball team.

“I figured a lot of guys on the other teams would laugh,” he said.

At first, Loffredo also felt awkward about practicing against the girl.

“I would hesitate to throw the ball as hard to her as to the other guys--I was afraid I’d hurt her,” he said. “When I had to block out I didn’t want to touch her.”

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Then Loffredo made up his mind. He planned to run the girl off the team. Literally. “I would try extra hard at practice to make her mess up--so she would die and not make the team--but she kept up!”

There was even talk of freezing her out during games.

“Some of the guys said they would not pass her the ball if they played in a game with her,” Loffredo said.

Why such harsh treatment? “It’s a guy’s game and she’s a girl--a chick,” Loffredo said.

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But Loffredo has changed his tune. “She’s tough. I’m treating her like any other player.”

The object of Loffredo’s change of heart is Jeanine Davis, a 15-year-old sophomore reserve guard, who tried out for and made the basketball team at Oak Hill, a small private school in Sepulveda.

Davis, who is 5-6 and weighs 130 pounds, laughs when asked about those first days at practice. “They might say, ‘Don’t throw it too hard; It might hit her chest,’ ” Davis said.

Coach Phil Bruder also remembers the needling Davis endured during the 15-minute drives to the team’s off-campus practice gym. “They would say, ‘You don’t look like a jock, but here you are a jock,’ or, ‘I never went out with a teammate before.’ ”

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And how does the latter comment stand with Bruder? “I think there might be a player or two who might want to date her, but I don’t have a problem with that,” he said.

Davis, who confirmed that she does have admirers on the team, said she still gets plenty of ribbing, but she also gets her share of respect. Especially after scoring her first point on a technical foul shot against Southwestern.

“The crowd was looking at me funny and then I swished one and said ‘Oh, yeah!’ ” Davis said. “First I looked at my coach, then I looked at my teammates, then I looked at the other team, and after that I could hear the crowd go ‘Whoa.’ ”

In fact, all 3 of her points this season have come on technical fouls. Bruder said she is one of the best free-throw shooters on the team and can shoot well from the field.

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“If the defense allows her to shoot, she can. The problem is she isn’t that quick. By the time she’s ready to shoot someone is on her. But then again, opponents don’t know how to play her. She’s attractive and sometimes the other players get a little confused. They’re afraid to play man-to-man pressing defense, so to speak,” he said.

Davis had played no organized basketball before this season. So why start now?

“She likes basketball and we don’t have a girls’ team,” Bruder said. “She’s not trying to be a barnstormer. She played volleyball here and wanted to play basketball, too.”

Although Bruder concedes that Davis gives the school some publicity, he said Davis is out there to play basketball, not promote Oak Hill, which had won only 2 games in the past 2 seasons.

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Davis said that she tried out for another reason, as well. “I’m always up for new adventures,” she said.

This adventure has lived up to her expectations. And she had an idea of what to expect because she used to play basketball at home with 2 older brothers. And Davis credits an ex-boyfriend for also fueling her interest in hoops. “We used to practice a lot at Reseda Park,” she said.

Davis’ mother, Mary Lou, noticed Jeanine’s smooth transition to the boys’ team when she watched Jeanine play against Viewpoint last month.

“I don’t know that much about basketball, but it looked like she held her own,” Mary Lou said.

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Bruder agrees. “She can keep up with the boys both verbally and athletically--she carries herself very well.”

But Bruder confessed that much of Davis’ game needs improvement. “When the kids were playing at lunch, she would just let it fly. But during practice, we’ve made her understand that when she’s open--take it--but when she’s covered she should pass it.”

Bruder also said: “She telegraphs her passes and dribbles with her head down too much.”

But she plays well enough to be the third person off the bench. She averages 8 minutes a game for Oak Hill (4-3) and is expected to play in tonight’s Westside League opener against West Valley Christian.

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This doesn’t bother Davis, who plays ahead of 2 other boys. “I’m sure they’re not happy,” Davis said, “but if they put out as much effort as I do, they’ll play.”

Said sophomore guard Matt Freedman, who plays behind Davis, “I don’t care. I just got used to it after a while.”

Players agree that Bruder treats Davis just like anyone else. “If she messes up, the coach yells at her just like he yells at us,” senior center Philip Freed said.

Senior forward Billy Suharitdumrong concurred, but he added, “We yell at her, too.”

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But don’t feel sorry for Davis. Throughout the ordeal, she has established rapport with her teammates. Her outgoing off-court demeanor has a lot to do with it. “I bag on the guys more than they bag on me,” she said.

Davis said that she remains enthusiastic about playing basketball, except that she would like to try something different--playing against girls. Davis said that she enjoys the cozy academic environment at Oak Hill, which has a student population of about 90. But next year she might transfer. “It’s been a great experience,” Davis said about playing against boys, “but I wish we had a girls’ basketball team.”


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