God may have 'forgot' Lowndes County, but he blessed it with 4-star point guard JD Davison
LOWNDES COUNTY — Buried in the Black Belt of Alabama, this county of 9,974 people sits on the edge of civilization it seems, encompassing Letohatchee and extending past the Calhoun School, on to Fort Deposit.
Miles of trees separate rolling plains that host cattle and fertile, black soil. Single-lane country roads — with cars sparsely moving in each direction — wind and cut through the rural milieu and seem to never reach a destination.
There are houses, but few in number and often decrepit or deserted.
Twentieth century sociologist Arthur Raper described the area as home to the “richest soil and the poorest people.” Inasmuch, Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, surveyed the county in 2017 and concluded it was one of the most poverty-ridden places in the developed world.
"I traveled to a lot of places in the US where poverty jumps out from behind every corner," Alston told the Montgomery Advertiser. "But Lowndes County is one of the bleakest and most determinedly neglected counties once one gets out of the city area and into the rural parts. The state government spends very little in order to improve the dismal standard of living of many residents, and the local government is too poor to make a difference. I found it very puzzling that the United States still pretends that it is a land of equal opportunity for all when it opts to do nothing at all to improve the grim conditions in which so many live in Lowndes County."
One of the county's residents even told the The Root during the publication's visit there that "everybody forgot about Lowndes County ... even God.”
But Jerdarrian "JD" Davison, the Calhoun School's four-star point guard, lives here, and he vows never to forget.
Davison, the No. 18 overall high school basketball prospect in the Class of 2021, according to ESPN, is forging a career in a place many would not be found.
Moreover, Davison has never considered leaving despite his status on the AAU circuit and high school basketball scene, nor could the calls of the nation's most notable prep schools cajole him to join their ranks. He loves where he's from. He's proud of it; he's loyal to it.
"One of my personal quotes is, 'Small town, big dreams," Davison said. "And where I'm coming from you don't have a basketball, no basketball hoops, no gym, so you had to hoop outside. I didn't have a lot, so I just grew up from nothing.
"I love Lowndes County. This is where I grew up, all my family is here. I'd love to stay at Calhoun and bring a championship back."
As a light rain falls at "The Cage," a fenced-in basketball court in Fort Deposit, Davison, stands in front of the only hoop with a full net.
All around him are run-down hoops with weather-stained breakaway rims, once orange now fading to white. The baskets stand on a paved surface that is uneven in some places, as puddles well up in the voids of missing concrete.
Overgrown grass has crept its way on to the court, making the place feel eerily forsaken. As Davison shoots a couple of shots, cars pass by and people roll down their windows and yell in his direction.
"JD! I see you, boy! We got you, baby! Keep up the good work!"
Davison doesn't say a word, he just raises his hand and acknowledges them with his patented smile of humility.
Here, in The Cage, he's his purest self, a hooper. He says the hype surrounding him is "a sideshow" and maybe that's because he is so rooted in his humble beginnings as the baby boy of four brothers.
Davison finished the regular season of his junior year averaging 32.4 points a night and made highlight plays that'd make a mom recording from a cell phone interested in starting a hoopmixtape YouTube page.
He has offers from Memphis, Auburn, Alabama, Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Xavier, UNLV, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and St. Louis, and is gaining interest from Louisville, Kentucky and Duke.
“He’s all of us in one,” said Jerome Davison, his oldest brother. "He got the best of all our gifts." Since the age of three, JD has been chasing behind his brothers: Jerome, 30; Jermarques, 28; and Ja’Keem, 23.
All three attended the Calhoun School and left their print on the Tigers basketball program. And if JD wanted to be a part of their family's basketball legacy, he had to keep up and scrap to get his.
At 16 years old, JD is seven years younger than the brother above him. So, he has always played above his age, and no one took it easy on him.
"They made all the calls on me," JD said. They called him for traveling, double-dribbling and more; all the rules in the book were dumped on his head at such a young age that he had no choice but to improve.
But it sharpened his skills, and by the age of 7, he was winning MVP awards with the Greenville Lakers, playing in the 11-year old division in his youth league. He was ousted by the 7-year old division because the lowered hoops they played on were too easy for him.
JD said that's when he realized he was good. Playing underneath the shadows and tough love of his brothers didn't reveal his talent at the time, but once the playing field evened out — playing four ages above his own was equity for him — his abilities were not only actualized, but revealed to be refined for his age.
"Sports is in their veins," said JD's mom, Katrina Davison. "It's almost like it just came naturally. And to see that all of them rubbed off on (JD) — they were very hard on him — it's amazing."
Now, when he takes the court at Calhoun, the crowd witnesses years of training, as very few aspects of his game are raw. The freaky athleticism, that's a gift from God, but the heightened basketball IQ, his ability to pick and choose his spots, and the rest of his skillset are all pieces of the tough love his brothers deposited in him.
"Me being the oldest, I didn't have anyone to drive me," said Jerome, who played JUCO basketball at Wallace Community College Selma, "or try to bring people in to work with me. But I know what it takes to get where he's at, or to get to the next level."
JD had that, and it's what he cherishes the most. Family and loyalty to them and his brand — "Small town, big Dreams" — is why he stays in Lowndes County.
But that doesn't mean people haven't tried to pull him away.
This past summer JD's status blew up. He went from unranked in the Summer of 2018 to lighting up the AAU scene and finishing the 2019 summer ranked top 50 in his class, according to both ESPN and 247 Sports.
Schools began to call, both on the high school and college level. The first that attempted to court him away from Calhoun was Oak Hill Academy, a prep basketball powerhouse in Virginia.
"They came pretty strong," his mother said. Then Hargrave Military Academy (VA), Hillcrest Prep (AZ), and St. Patrick (NJ) flirted with the thought of him.
They offered him games on national television, new scenery, high-profile teammates and higher level competition. He shrugged at it. Ball is ball, and Lowndes County is home.
"When all of this started, people were like 'Y'all are going to stay at Calhoun?'" Mrs. Davison said. But she wasn't as pressed to answer this question.
She wasn't concerned with their location or what the outcome would be. In her eyes, the location doesn't dictate the blessing and, "What's for you is for you," she said, "And we deal with where God has placed us at, and what's to come is going to come."
JD seconds that notion, and it's not really up for debate or further discussion. This is the cup he was given.
"It was very important to stay, because it's where I'm from — where I was born and raised," JD said. "I just want to put on for them and most importantly put on for myself, to put a big name on where I'm from.
"There have been a couple prep schools come up to me, but there's never been a thought of going anywhere else."
JD's loyalty is "extreme," said Calhoun head basketball coach Ervin Starr. His family's history at the school is important to him, and "his thing is, 'I want to be the next guy in that line and make my mark,'" Starr said, and he wants to prove that his roots aren't a handicap.
"He doesn't care where he's from. He knows how Calhoun is looked upon outside of Lowndes County," Star continued. "His whole thing is, 'Well, if that's the way they want to look at (Calhoun), then let's show them something different. Let's prove to them that you can be from Lowndes County and be successful.'"
In the age of social media and digital footprints, it's not hard for JD to be found. He is special, and that creates notoriety. But not many others from these parts have obtained the same level of recognition.
And before JD's growing blip on the radar, there hadn't been a notable basketball player to come out of Lowndes since Ben Wallace. The four-time NBA All-Star is well aware of this and says JD's exposure is a blessing.
"We do have social media now, and it is easier to get exposure down in Lowndes County, where usually you wouldn't get a lot of exposure," Wallace said. "Scouts don't really come down there, and right now for him to be ranked as high as he's ranked that's a great experience, and hopefully he gets all the looks he deserves and makes the most of them."
Coach Starr said JD doesn't care about that. His only concern is and was to put the ball in the hoop.
"He’s loyal and he’s very humble. He doesn’t seek that stardom, that’s just something that comes with it. He understands that, but he’s not seeking any attention.”
As his growing notoriety has created fandom and praise, it's also generated doubt from those who insist he's not playing real competition on the Class 2A level at Calhoun. To those folks, he confidently says, "I'll see them at the top."
His first step toward the top came the first weekend of March 2018. JD was trying out for the Alabama Fusion — the premier AAU team in the state, a part of Nike's EYBL circuit and producers of NBA players DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker.
"When he first came in the gym, he really didn't know anybody," said Maurice Arrington, a coach with the Fusion. "He was just coming because he knew that's what was best for him. From keeping up with him in school ball, I knew what type of athleticism he had, and at first he was just going through the motions."
Carver High School guard Juwon Gaston, who is friends with JD and played for the Fusion when he was in eighth grade, suggested Arrington give JD a look.
"The first thing I asked him (Gaston) was: 'Can he play?'" Arrington said, and he got the answer fairly quickly after reaching out to JD and following him through freshman season at Calhoun.
"What sold me was, I saw a highlight of him dunking on a 6-10 kid from Brew Tech," Arrington said. "That really opened my eyes, like 'Whoaaa, this kid might be something.'"
Knowing JD's ability, even as a ninth-grader, Arrington said, "It was easy to see he was one of the best players in the gym," so he couldn't understand why JD was playing so humbly — softly laying up the ball in fast-break drills instead of dunking it to show his ability.
"I pulled him off to the side and said, 'JD you are the most athletic kid in this gym," Arrington said. "Show it. You are at tryouts."
JD's next time down the court, he jumped toward the rim and rocked the cradle just like Michael Jordan used to do, Arrington said.
Fusion co-director and 17-U coach Robert Shannon remembers the dunk.
"Excuse my french, my first impression was 'Oh, S---! Who the f--- is that!?" Shannon said. The real JD had arrived. "I knew he was coming, but he really came."
From that point on, Shannon knew JD was the best player in the gym.
"I've had Devin Booker and all these other talented kids," said Shannon, a 17-year coaching vet on the AAU level, "But I've never had someone that does everything like that. He defends, he rebounds, he can score, he's athletic, he can see the floor like no other guy we've ever had."
Despite JD's talent, his demeanor portrayed the opposite. He was shy about playing up for the first time in his life. At the time, JD was playing with the Fusion's 15-year old team when Shannon knew and vocalized that he should be playing up with the 17s.
"I knew he could (play on that level)," Shannon said. "But I don't think he had that confidence yet." JD eventually came around and when a spot opened on the 17-year old roster before last summer, he asked Shannon if he could get it. Shannon's response: "You could have been got it."
His acceleration in national rankings, following last summer, tells the rest of that story.
"I see him as a lottery pick right now in his class," Shannon said, and when asked about JD's potential, Shannon just laughed and praised the young guard with a smorgasbord of adoration.
Shannon made it clear that there is nothing stopping JD from being a "one-and-done" college player with an "NBA All-Star" ceiling.
Not even his hometown can stall this process, Shannon insisted, and that's something JD knew all along. He rarely speaks out on that, though. Instead a smile, canopied under an emergent layer of hair, usually breaks across his face and speaks for everything he feels.
"There's no ceiling for me," JD said. "I have to just keep going up and going up. I just have to keep working hard to get to where I want to be."
Amid his talent, the options he has ahead and the attention he receives, JD remains as humble as his beginnings.
It shows when children flock to him after every game and ask for his shoes, his shirt, or whatever else they can get their hands on, and he obliges.
It shows on game day mornings behind closed doors, when he blasts music throughout his house at 7 or 8 a.m. and dances around despite his mother's insistent jesting: 'JD, you can't dance!'
These are the many faces of a quiet boy with an explosive, grown-man game and all the hype of the world on his shoulders. This is JD.
"Honestly, it's really not soaking in for me too well right now," Mrs. Davison said. "Reality is setting in a little bit more, but like JD says, 'Mom, I just want to play ball.' We didn't know it was going to blow up this big. It's just something he loves doing."
God didn't forget Lowndes County. He just prepared the way for its native son.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Andre Toran at 334-322-4631 or AToran@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndreToran.