Airman Portraits: Pro basketball player finds new life in Air Force

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Greg Biondo
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
At 16 years old, Gareth Davis was given a choice -- either leave school and go to the United States or stay in Thetford, England, where he and his mother had spent part of his childhood homeless.

"I chose to come to America," said Davis, now a technical sergeant and instructor supervisor in the 335th Training Squadron. "I didn't do well in school; I wouldn't have been successful if I would have continued, and I was offered a new lease in life by coming to the states. I took it up and that's when I was able to make some changes in my life and start becoming a little more focused and a little more disciplined."

Davis' stepfather was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and when he transferred to Pope Air Force Base, Fayetteville, N.C., Davis made the decision to follow.

"So I went from a British school where it was uniforms, lining up, 'yes sir,' 'no sir,' very structured, to Fayetteville, N.C. -- it was one of the biggest culture shocks you could ever go through," Davis said.

The culture shock didn't stop with being in a new location. There were many ethnic and social dynamics that he had to adjust to as well.

"I remember my first day of school, the bus pulling up it had tinted windows and video cameras on it. They waved me down with a wand as soon as I got off the bus. As I walked into school, I walked through another set of metal detectors," Davis said. "It was eye-opening and alarming."

Quickly realizing that if he didn't find a way to fit in he could be in trouble, Davis turned to a game that would ultimately change his life.

"I was 6'8", 6'9", English, stood out like a sore thumb and I needed to figure out my niche pretty quickly -- and I absolutely fell in love with the game of basketball," he said. "It was through those guys on the basketball team that I survived high school, because once I was on the basketball team I was accepted in that culture," he said. "You know we just looked out for each other."

Basketball began as a way for Davis to be a part of something and feel a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar place, but as he progressed, his talents were recognized and he was given the opportunity of a lifetime.

"My senior year in high school I was recruited to the No. 1 high school in the nation, and when I say recruited, I was recruited," Davis said.

During his time at Mount Zion Christian Academy, Davis and his team lived in a house in downtown Durham, N.C., owned by the school.

"It (the house) was in a rough part of town, but once again it was the guys on the team who made sure nothing ever happened to me," he said. "I first learned, through basketball, the sense of teamwork, the sense of belonging, the sense of a brotherhood."

After high school, Davis was given a full basketball scholarship to East Tennessee State University.

"I made (ESPN's) Sports Center my freshmen year against Iowa State," he said. "I'll never forget my brother calling me and saying, 'you were on Sports Center--they said some guy named Gareth Davis comes out hot.'"

Davis was an average student athlete and got caught up in the stereotypical lifestyle that accompanies it. After four years, though, he received a bachelor's degree in business administration and was recruited to play professional basketball.

He played for the premier league in England for the London Leopards. Davis said he had everything a young man could want: popularity, he was a celebrity in the clubs and was even in a few commercials and a music video.

"Playing professional basketball was always a dream for me, but I also recognize that it took me down a pretty dark path as well," Davis said. "I had a horrible hole in my heart that just wasn't filled. It wasn't self-fulfilling anymore, I didn't like the person that I was becoming and I needed to make some changes."

Initially, Davis wanted to commission in the Air Force as an officer, but his plans were abruptly halted due to the attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001.

The citizenship process in the U.S. bottlenecked, and Davis felt he had to make a change as soon as possible. On Oct. 22, 2002, Davis enlisted in the Air Force from Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, where his stepfather was stationed at the time.

Davis' stepfather played a big role in his decision. As a teenager he watched his stepfather achieve great things in the military, working his way up through the ranks to chief master sergeant. Davis said everything his stepfather did "bled military and bled blue."

"He was just an awesome inspiration to me. I didn't understand him growing up because going from separate cultures, being injected into the military, being a military dependent, there was no transition," Davis said. "I didn't grow up in it, and I was just injected in the military lifestyle when my mother remarried."

Davis said he feels completely blessed to have the opportunities that the Air Force has given him. It has presented him with a new lease on life, which combined with a deep spirituality is what makes him the person he is today.

When asked what has helped guide him along the way, Davis simply referenced the Bible verse Philippians 1:27, "Live your life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

The same verse that led Davis to be the person he is today is the one that he uses now to guide his students and fellow Airmen, in hopes they will find their own path.

"Only live your life worthy of what you say you believe," he said. "So if you say you believe our Airman's Creed, then live that Airman's Creed. I'm tired of people referencing core values -- I want to see it in the way that you live your life."