High School Sports

Lafayette's Davis matures from 'scarecrow' to star in six-year varsity career

Lafayette's Jackson Davis (13) dunked against Paul Dunbar on Dec. 10. Davis, who has played varsity basketball since seventh grade, averages 23.4 points and 12.9 rebounds as a senior.
Lafayette's Jackson Davis (13) dunked against Paul Dunbar on Dec. 10. Davis, who has played varsity basketball since seventh grade, averages 23.4 points and 12.9 rebounds as a senior. Herald-Leader

Jackson Davis played in his first varsity basketball game for Lafayette as a long-legged, loose-limbed seventh-grader who wasn't quite sure what his body could do.

"He was a scarecrow — 6-5, 145 pounds," recalled his dad, former University of Kentucky player Johnathon Davis.

Fast forward six seasons and Jackson Davis is a 6-foot-8, 215-pound senior with nimble athleticism and endless energy, making him a scary matchup for foes.

"He's a totally different person, physically, mentally, in every way," Johnathon Davis said. "It's been fun watching him grow up."

In his last game last season, Davis eclipsed Billy Ray Lickert (Mr. Basketball in 1957) as Lafayette’s all-time leading scorer. Last Friday, Davis became only the sixth boys’ player in city history to reach 2,000 career points.

Davis, who broke into the Generals' starting lineup as an eighth-grader, realizes those early days of being undersized and overmatched were great for him.

"Playing as a seventh- and eighth-grader, even as a freshman, prepared me for the speed and physicality of the game, and the mental part of it, too," he said.

"That experience when I was young helped make me the player I am now."

Davis showed early signs he was going to be a special player. One of his break-through games was the 11th Region finals in 2010. Lafayette lost to Scott County 76-50, but Davis, a scrawny eighth-grader, led the Generals with 16 points and six rebounds, and made the all-tournament team.

"It did surprise me at the time because our team was really good, and I didn't expect to do a whole lot that game," he said. "I thought the older guys would be the ones who'd step up, but I was the one who did.

"After that I realized I could play with anybody."

Johnathon Davis, who's been a volunteer assistant at Lafayette during his son's career, wasn't surprised.

"Actually, when Jackson was a seventh-grader there were spurts when he was the best player on the court, even against seniors," he said. "The (2010 region finals) was the first time the public saw it on a big stage, but I'd seen flashes before."

There was speculation along the way that Davis would leave Lafayette for a prep school. Johnathon Davis said there were plenty of opportunities to do that, but he thought it was best for his son's maturation as a player and person to stick with Lafayette.

"I wanted him to stay here and learn how to be a leader, to stay at his home school and help the bunch of guys he grew up with win," Johnathon said. "I thought those life skills would take him a long way."

Davis' game also prospered with the Generals. He wasn't pigeonholed as a post player. He's always been able to run the floor, and he's improved his ball-handling to the point where he's a primary press-breaker. He's also shown a much-improved mid-range shot this season.

His field goal percentage has risen from 53 percent as a sophomore to 56 percent as a junior to 61 percent this winter. His free-throw accuracy has skyrocketed from 54 percent as a sophomore to 73 percent this season.

Davis has been a double-double machine the last two years. He averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds as a junior. He's averaging 23.4 and 12.9 as a senior.

On those rare occasions when he doesn't get doubledigit points and rebounds, he hears from his friends. "They're the first ones to call after a game and complain that I didn't have a double-double," he said with a laugh.

While Johnathon Davis has overseen his son's basketball development, he credits Andre Mahorn for pushing Jackson to an even higher level.

"We went through a phase a lot of fathers and sons go through in athletics," Johnathon said. "I realized he needed to hear things from somebody besides me."

So dad enlisted Mahorn, Jackson's summer league coach, for one-on-one training. He's been working with Jackson weekly for eight months.

"Andre is great with kids, instilling confidence and translating drills into actual skills on the court," Johnathon said. "He's the one that taught Jackson to play at the level he's at right now.

"It's all come to fruition. He kept working, kept getting better, and here we are at the end of his senior year and he has a chance to be Mr. Basketball."

Mike Mendenhall III, in his third season as Lafayette coach, thinks Davis still has a huge upside: "He's still very raw, and he's got two things you can't teach — athleticism and height. He's got a great looking shot now, too. The sky's the limit for him."

Davis committed to Rice University last fall, choosing the Owls over Columbia, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt. But his improved play this season has drawn more recruiters' eyes, and he could change his mind about his college choice.

Davis' focus at the moment, though, is on helping No. 10 Lafayette get to the Sweet Sixteen.

"That'd be a dream come true," he said. "That'd be the perfect way to go out six years later."

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