High School Basketball

Lafayette star Jackson Davis being recruited by Tubby Smith

Lafayette's Jackson Davis scored over Dunbar's Mike Smith on Tuesday in the 43rd District semifinals.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Lafayette's Jackson Davis scored over Dunbar's Mike Smith on Tuesday in the 43rd District semifinals. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

A little more than 25 years ago, Johnathon Davis was a standout high school basketball player with scholarship offers from some big-time colleges.

One of the coaches who wanted Davis to come play for him was Tubby Smith — at the time an assistant at South Carolina.

Davis eventually signed with Eddie Sutton and played three seasons at the University of Kentucky.

Now his son Jackson finds himself in a similar position.

The Lafayette star will be a senior this fall, and he too is hearing from some top college coaches.

Tubby Smith is one of them.

"I've known him since I was 15 years old," Johnathon Davis told the Herald-Leader. "He's recruited father and son, which I'm sure is very rare in this business."

The elder Davis ended up playing two seasons for Smith, who took an assistant coaching job on Rick Pitino's staff after Sutton resigned in 1989.

Davis and Smith kept in touch over the years, and the former UK player still describes his old coach as a "father figure."

When Smith was the head coach at Kentucky, Jackson Davis had "the run of Rupp Arena." He attended Smith's camps every summer, hung out with the players and regularly went to see the late Bill Keightley at Memorial Coliseum.

Jackson played his final Elite Youth Basketball League game with the Kentucky Travelers this month at the Peach Jam in South Carolina.

Among the big-name coaches in the stands was Tubby Smith, who offered Davis a scholarship not long after taking the top job at Texas Tech.

"I've known Tubby 30 years," Johnathon Davis said. "Our families are close. I knew he was going to offer. But I don't think he did it because it was my son. He did it because he thought the guy could play for him.

"Wherever he's at, we're going to give it a shot. We're going to go look and see what it's all about. He could have been on the moon, and we still would have gone to look."

Jackson said he and his father often joke about being recruited by the same coach almost 30 years apart.

One difference between the Tubby that recruiting Johnathon and the Tubby that's recruiting Jackson?

"He had a lot more hair back then," Johnathon said with a big laugh.

Jackson also has scholarship offers from Western Kentucky and Indiana State. He said he's been hearing a lot recently from Virginia Commonwealth.

More offers could come his way after he and the Travelers exceeded expectations this summer on the national EYBL circuit.

Davis played alongside some of the best prep players from Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, and in front of most of the highest-profile college coaches in the country.

"It's been a phenomenal experience and I'm sorry we didn't do it sooner," his father said. "We didn't fully understand what it was all about, but now that we've been here and gone through the whole season and we've seen it — it's definitely a step above AAU. It's two steps above high school basketball.

"It's just a different, different environment."

The Nike-sponsored tour featured the majority of the top-ranked national prospects in the class of 2014, and Jackson often found himself matched up against players with scholarship offers from schools like Kentucky, Kansas and Duke.

"The competition — it's not like the AAU tournaments where you might get some good games and you might get some bad ones," Jackson said. "It's good every single night. You have to come to play every single game."

Travelers Coach Andre Mahorn said Davis "has taken us to another level" over the past few months, despite missing one session of games with a back injury and spraining his ankle during another contest.

Mahorn was an assistant coach at Lafayette early in Davis' high school career and said the player is still tapping into his full potential.

"He's improved tremendously," Mahorn said. "I think his jump shot is a lot better. He's rebounding out of his area a lot better. His IQ, his patience. We always preached on being patient, letting the game come and don't try to go get it so fast."

Davis has shown a marked improvement in his offensive game during his time with the Travelers. The 6-foot-7 forward pulled off some back-to-the-basket moves that were missing from his repertoire last season at Lafayette.

He said he feels "more comfortable" on the court than he did just a few months ago, and his father pointed out that Jackson has had more fun playing for the Travelers than any other summer of his basketball career.

When the team's schedule wraps up at the end of the month, Davis will turn his attention to recruiting.

He and his parents already have plans to take an official visit to Texas Tech in mid-August so they can check out Lubbock and see Smith's new surroundings.

Davis is honored to be recruited by "a future hall of fame coach," but he's not as familiar with the school.

"I don't really know much about Texas Tech," he said.

As for the other four official visits, Johnathon Davis said they'd probably hold off for the time being.

Jackson played last month with the Lafayette summer team, and he's expecting "lots of wins" during his senior year.

"We should be pretty tough this year," he said.

College coaches will no doubt stop by to see Davis and the Generals throughout the season. To those that knew him years ago, the attention isn't surprising.

"I always thought Jackson had the potential to get it done," Mahorn said. "Even as a seventh-grader, you could see it. And you just hoped it happened for him because the kid works so hard. There aren't too many kids in the country that can outwork him. And that's what I love about having him on my team and just being around him. He's a great kid.

"The recruiting part of it doesn't surprise me. I'm just happy he's able to have those choices, and one day he'll make somebody else feel the same way."

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