Stars' friendship far from imaginary

Andraya Carter and Kaela Davis bring serious game to the court and friendship off of it. Chris Hansen/ESPN.com

BUFORD, Ga. -- The Buford High School (Buford, Ga.) auxiliary gym is nearly empty on this particular Thursday afternoon during the holiday break. But for Kaela Davis, it wouldn't matter if it were full. She's giving a passionate speech to motivate her teammates before tip off. After winning the jump ball, Davis shouts out the play to her team and it's off to the races. She waits for the defense to predictably slide over to help and drops a pretty bounce pass to the opposite block. She immediately turns the other way, arms in the air in celebration, while getting back on defense.

Before lauding Davis' vision and passing ability, realize she was playing for an imaginary team, with imaginary teammates, and against an imaginary opponent. And such a good friend is Buford teammate Andraya Carter, she indulges Davis by coaching the imaginary opposition.

Both Carter and Davis are considered elite prospects in their respective class. Carter, class of 2012, is ranked 17th in the ESPNU HoopGurlz Super 60 and Davis undoubtedly will garner ample consideration in the inaugural ESPNU HoopGurlz Terrific 25 for 2013 this spring. Both verbally committed early and, wouldn't you know it? To the same school: Tennessee.

Up until recently, only those in the Greater Atlanta area or those close to their families could easily spot evidence of their close friendship. In basketball they've always been opponents. During Davis's freshman year of high school, she was teamed up with former Georgia Ice teammate Diamond DeShields at Norcross, going 28-4, taking the AAAAA state title and a top 25 national ranking. Meanwhile Carter, as a sophomore, was winning her second AA state championship with Buford.

Even in the summer when you can play for any team you choose, Davis played for the Georgia Ice, coached by her father Antonio Davis. Carter played with the Georgia Elite.

All that has changed now. The two are not only stuck with each other through June 2012 at Buford, they also may be teammates this summer as Carter is leaning towards joining the Georgia Ice for her last club season before heading to Knoxville. There, they'll spend another three years together as college teammates after a one-year break.

"I love that kid, you know," Davis said. "I ask myself the same question, like how am I not sick of this person already? But you know, anytime we're together, we always have a ton of fun and we know when we need that space, you know things are starting to get tense. But she's a fun person to be around."

Carter said, "We don't get sick of each other. It's kind of like sisters. We argue, it's not like everything's perfect all the time. We argue. We're honest with each other. But it's all out of love. I love her to death. She's always there for me and I'm there for her no matter what. We make it through anything, that's just what friends do."

There are several examples of elite college prospects who get along and play well together, but it's rare when the friendship stays this tight in light of so much focus on who is better than who. And who is ranked higher.

"We've always been competitive against each other and obviously in (club) season those games are always fun, because that being your best friend, and obviously getting to see each other and compete against each other's teams," Davis said. "Her teams have always been the older team or whatever, but we never got that win... but it's fun, we never go out there passive with each other because we're friends. We always make sure we're competing at the best level we can."

It is that mentality to push each other to compete that keeps the two from succumbing to the pressure that comes with the acclaim and hype both have garnered. These two refuse to subscribe to the hype-infused drama than can overwhelm young, budding stars.

They've heard their fair share of people questioning the validity of their Lady Vols commitment, their ranking, and even the ranking of their team. Success breeds that type of jealousy. But this pair has the maturity to deal with it. Neither player feels obligated to prove herself, even if Pat Summitt is at one of their games (though Davis did score 31 points when Summitt was in the building on Dec. 28).

"Those are just some of the things you have to let go... Coach Summitt, obviously she's a very important person, but you know you have to focus on what you're doing," Davis said.

Another reason for their success together is that neither wants to take individual credit. That deference might be expected of Carter, a pass-first, defensive-minded point guard, but Carter is a scorer with fame in her family. But somehow her confidence isn't supplemented with bravado. In fact, Davis' mother sees this year as a breakthrough time for her daughter. Gone is her daughter's somewhat introverted personality.

Davis gives ample credit for her success and the attention she has amassed to her parents for putting her in great situations. She also credits her teammates at every stop in her young basketball career for being great influences as people, and great teammates on the floor.

Carter and Davis are admittedly human, despite the praise of their games at such a young age. Both have had bad games before and both will have a few more before they hang up their sneakers. But it's their acceptance of that which allows them to stay grounded, stay close and stay friends.

The duo also deals with a high-school coach who may have more similarities to a football coach than your typical girl's basketball coach. Gene Durden is impossible to please. For Davis, dealing with the change in culture at the high school level was made infinitely easier with a trusted friend in Carter, who grew up in Buford and under the intensity of Durden.

The transition may have been made easier with the leadership and trust in Carter, but the actual practices haven't been. Neither would want it that way.

"We encourage each other when we're on the same team and push each other when we're not," Carter said. "We're always getting better."

The way these two handle intense coaches, lofty projections, and their mature responses to any adversity in the game, all masks a simple reality for these two; neither is in a hurry to grow up. And it's working for them.

Seeing Carter and Davis, the admitted besties since middle school, stroll around the gym before a game, you can't but help but wonder if they've got Bieber Fever, even when their headphones aren't plugged in. Neither will admit how much Justin Bieber is actually on their respective iPods (though Davis' mom Kendra outted her daughter when she overheard the question and witnessed the denial).

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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn.com.