December 19, 2023 

Meet Molly Davis, the Hawkeye with heart, hustle and a headband

Davis has been just the transfer Iowa needed

During Molly Davis’ last game at Central Michigan in March 2022, she never could have imagined where she would be just a year later.

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“If you would have told me I would be playing in the national Championship a year later, I would have told you that you’re crazy,” Davis told The Next. “It was just really cool to be a part of it on that stage. It was hard to process in the moment. I was like, ‘This is not real life.’” 

The 5’7″ senior guard scored two points and had one rebound, an assist and a steal for the Iowa Hawkeyes in their 102-85 loss to LSU in the title game April 2, 2023, in front of nearly 19,500 fans at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. A record breaking 9.9 million viewers watched the game on ESPN.

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How she got here

Central Michigan faced Iowa in the first round of the 2021 NCAA tournament in the centralized San Antonio, Texas, location. A sophomore, Davis scored 18 points and pulled down six rebounds in the Chippewas’ 87-72 loss, ending their successful 18-9 season in which they won the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament championship.

Her junior year was a different story, though.

“We had the same starting five my freshman and sophomore years, and going into my junior season basically everyone graduated, and we had a lot of new people coming in,” Davis said. “That season we were just just trying to find the right pieces to put the puzzle together.”

The Chippewas ended the 2021-22 season with a disappointing 4-25 record. Despite being the undisputed leader and star of the team, Davis chose to enter the transfer portal for her senior and COVID years.

“The reason I went into the transfer portal wasn’t because of the season that we had,” she said. “I know a lot of people like to say that we didn’t have a great season so that’s why. But in reality, I was just prioritizing my own happiness on and off the court and knew I had to go into a new environment that was best for me.”

Davis took visits to Michigan State, Minnesota and Bowling Green before choosing Iowa, where she had a connection with assistant coach Raina Harmon, who was a coach at Central Michigan when Davis was being recruited at H.H. Dow High School in Midland, Michigan.

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“I knew that coming here to Iowa I wasn’t going to be a star player but that’s honestly not important to me,” Davis said. “I knew that the culture they have at Iowa and the community and teammates and stuff like that was so much more important to me than being a star on a team. I think it’s the culture that coaches have built. I think the most important thing is no matter what role you play on the team, whether you’re playing zero minutes or 40 minutes, every single person is valued. I think that’s so special and it’s attested to Coach [Lisa] Bluder and the rest of the coaching staff.”

Ted Davis, Molly’s father, was impressed with the coaching staff’s honesty when recruiting his daughter. Iowa needed a backup for its superstar Caitlin Clark, and Davis was the right fit.

“Molly knew what her role was,” Ted Davis told The Next. “Coach Bluder was a very straight shooter from the beginning, telling her she would maybe play 10 minutes a game. When Caitlin needs to come out, we’re looking for somebody that can come in and handle the ball and give her a break for two or three minutes here, two or three minutes there. And then based on what we see, minutes could adjust. She was very honest and upfront from the very start.”

And it was Davis’ performance in that very game against Iowa, back in the 2021 NCCA Tournament, that had left a lasting impression on Bluder.

“We respected her. She’s one of the best players in the MAC and so we were like, ‘yes, this is somebody that’s for us,’” Bluder told The Next. “And obviously, we needed a backup for Caitlin, and she was willing to come in and play that role. And I have always admired her for that because she is a star here [at Central Michigan] and you come in and you want to be a backup? That means you’re putting your personal pride aside. And there’s not many transfers that are willing to do that now.”

In her first year at Iowa, Davis averaged 16.7 minutes per game, recording two starts — the first against No. 2. Ohio State on Jan 23, 2023. She averaged 3.8 ppg, 1.3 rebounds, and had 63 assists and 25 steals. She recorded a season-high 17 points against Rutgers on Feb. 12, going 5-7 from the floor and 5-5 from the charity stripe.

From backup to starter

With a whirlwind first year at Iowa under her belt, Davis worked on her game over the summer.

“I knew that I hadn’t shot the ball the way I wanted to consistently so it’s always good to keep working on your jump shot,” Davis said. “No one’s jump shot is perfect. So, working on my three-point shot and then also working on my floater, finding crafty ways to finish over taller defenders, because at 5’7” you can’t always just shoot layups over everyone. So, working on that and finding crafty ways and different ways to finish at the rim.”

The hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed as she has started in 10 of Iowa’s 12 games, averaging 5.6 ppg along with 3.0 rebounds per game.

“She’s been counted on; she provides a steadiness,” Bluder said. “The team has really just fallen in love with Molly. What she brings to this team is kind of steady play all the time. I think just familiarity with the program, knowing what’s expected of her now, knowing that we want her to contribute offensively instead of deferring to other people. I think it’s just a confidence and experience thing.”

Davis was a bright spot in Iowa’s lone loss so far this season to Kansas State on Nov. 16 in Iowa City, just days after reaching the No. 2 spot in the AP poll. Her 10 points on 3-3 shooting provided a spark for the Hawkeyes who shot just 36% from the field.

She kept up her steady play with another 10-point game against Drake just days later, and then shined on the national stage in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida, over Thanksgiving weekend.

Molly Davis was named to the Gulf Coast Showcase All-Tournament team in Estero, Florida, over Thanksgiving weekend. Photo credit: Iowa Athletics

Her 33 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists over three games, including 13 points in the revenge win over Kansas State in the championship game earned Davis a spot on the All-Tournament team.

Clark, the tournament’s MVP, attributed Davis’ strong play to the Hawkeyes’ success in Florida.

“Molly was tremendous; just fearless out there,” Clark told reporters after the championship game.

While honored with the recognition, Davis credited her teammates, who erupted in cheers when her name was called.

“I think that there were a lot of players on our team that played very well throughout that entire tournament, so I was pretty surprised to hear my name called,” she told The Next. “I think it could have gone to some other people on our team, but I’m honestly grateful for that. But I think it’s just a testament of how our other players also played during that tournament.”

Davis’ father credits the Iowa coaching staff with the way the team supports each other.

“To have all your teammates be happy for you, that speaks a lot about your head coach as well,” Ted Davis said. “That’s the culture that she’s created and the expectation, that, ‘We cheer on everybody.’ It’s just something you don’t always see on all teams. And I think a lot of why that happened is probably Coach Bluder.”

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The legend of the headband

As much as Davis is gaining traction with the Iowa faithful, her headband has also made a name for itself.

So much so that it has its own profile on X, formerly known as Twitter. Molly Davis’s Headband has more than 1,300 followers and rising. It also has its own line of t-shirts made by Des Moines-based Raygun, including popular slogans like “I’m With the Band,” “The Headband,” and “Heart. Hustle. Headband.”

“It is super cool, with them kind of embracing it; it’s kind of what I’m known for,” Davis said. “The t-shirts are pretty cool; I’m here for it. It’s awesome to see the variety of ways that people support me.”

Molly Davis leads Iowa onto the court for the Hy-Vee Hawkeye Showcase at a sold-out Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 16, 2023. Photo credit: Jeff Holmes

The legend of Davis’ headband goes back to when she was on a traveling team in fifth and sixth grade coached by her dad. In high school she found an Under Armour style that she liked and has stuck with it ever since – with some modifications.

“She could wear that in high school, but once she got to college, Central Michigan was an Adidas school. We had to find a way to keep that headband and the same feel,” Ted Davis told The Next.

“I had to do a little stitch work and actually take two bands to make one. So, I would cut out the Under Armour and then kind of measure the pieces and then I would sew the headband back together. It has to have a certain fit and it has to be so big. And then when she shifted to Iowa, they’re a Nike school, so we had to do the same thing.”

The actual headband is the same one she has worn throughout her entire college career, all possible because of her dad’s sewing skills.

“He can do it all, right? Every time he comes to one of our home games, he’s always bringing his sewing kit to make sure my headband feels nice and it’s ready to go,” Davis said. “He’s awesome. Everyone should be giving him all of his flowers.”

Of course, it has been bleached a few times, she noted. It is a white headband but she puts black tape over it when the team needs to wear black.

“I think that kind of confuses people a little bit, but it’s the same headband,” she said.

So, why does she like this particular style so much?

“I think it just stays in my hair because I have tried other headbands like in practice, because we’re supposed to wear black and I have to do the whole taping thing and it’s just a hassle,” she said. “I have tried other headbands but it’s just something about that one, it just stays in my hair perfectly. I’m a little bit superstitious, so that also plays into it a little bit.”

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The right choice

When Davis was looking at schools to transfer to, Iowa was the furthest – about six hours – from her home in Michigan.

“At first it was like, ‘I don’t know, because it’s so far from home,’” Davis told The Next. “It was obviously a little bit of a transition, because CMU was only 30 minutes away. But being in season, and everything that’s going on at school, I have some great friends down here that you don’t really don’t really think of it too much.”

Her family makes it to as many home games as they can and also to Big Ten away games in their region, and from their Michigan home they can get to road games at half of the conference’s schools pretty easily. But despite the difference, it’s clear to her family that she’s found the right place at Iowa.

“I was hoping for Molly to be happy again. She had gotten to the point that at Central they were struggling to field the team. They had volleyball players joining the team for the end of her final year, just so they’d have enough to fill a roster and be eligible to play,” Ted Davis told The Next. “So, really for us, we were really hoping to see her happy again. And she certainly made a really good choice going to Iowa.”

In the era of high-profile transfers, Davis wasn’t exactly flashy. But that suits Bluder and the Iowa program just fine.

“We want somebody that’s going to be able to come in and contribute,” Bluder told The Next. “They also have to fit our culture. They gotta be able to be a part of our family and it’s just not taking the best player. It’s taking the best person that fits into our system that fits into our values.”

Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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