J.D. Davison ended his prep career with a 45-point flurry. Next stop: Alabama | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

BIRMINGHAM — For J.D. Davison, the largest of fish in the smallest of ponds, a season ended Wednesday. The fascination now is how he will swim in deeper waters.

Davidson’s Calhoun High team lost in the AHSAA semifinals to a deeper Midfield team, 81-77, in what was essentially a home game for Midfield, its gymnasium roughly five miles away from Bill Harris Arena at Fair Park. 

Davison scored 45 of his team’s 77 points in a 32-minute game and didn’t look selfish doing it. Midfield guarded him aggressively at the 3-point line, a sound strategy but one that allowed him to get to the rim at will. For those who have grumbled about the occasional missed layup or bobbled lob pass by Alabama this year, rest assured that when Davison gets to the rim, he can assuredly finish. 

Calhoun's JD Davison (3) dunks the ball during the Class 2A boys state championship semifinals at Bill Harris Arena in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Midfield defeated Calhoun 81-77.

There will be a transition. Every freshman faces that coming into the SEC, especially from a small school like Calhoun. Davison’s choice to stay home in tiny Letohatchee was great for the community in this day when many top players go off to IMG Academy or some similar high-level prep school, but it meant he rarely had to attack the basket with a couple of 6-foot-8 or 6-9 defenders waiting, at least if they are fast enough to get there first.

The state of Alabama has occasionally produced McDonald’s All-Americans, but they usually come from much larger high schools. Calhoun coach Ervin Starr explained both sides of the coin.

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”As a coach, you know what you’ve signed up for,” he said. “But if you win, you hear, ‘You won because of J.D.,’ and if you lose, people ask how you could lose with a McDonald’s All-American. So it’s a blessing, and it’s hell.

”It’s not J.D.’s fault. He’s just being J.D. He knows that he couldn’t have won the state championship last year without teammates. But for the assistant coaches and the other players, it’s hard hearing ‘he’s all you’ve got’ when that’s not true.”

Perception might be reality but it’s a powerful perception. Calhoun, as Starr expressed, was regarded as the J.D. Show by opposing teams and media (it’s a rare 2A program in Alabama that has to handle media management issues). The Midfield fans taunted Davison as “Burger King,” a reference to his McDonald’s All-America status, even if the taunts were less raucous as Davison kept on scoring. 

The next level may be more liberating. Having teammates like Jaden Shackelford and Josh Primo may take away the physical burden of carrying a team. Being around players and coaches who have SEC championship rings might lessen the psychological burden and help him handle some of the other pressures that will come with being a likely one-and-done player, if most NBA mock drafts for 2022 are to be believed. 

After the game, when asked about making the next step to Alabama, Davison showed that roots are important.

”It’s a blessing,” he said. “To get to play for one of my favorite teams growing up, that’s a dream. Plus it’s home. For me to just be two hours away, where my family can see me play, that’s a blessing.”

That sense of connection was a key element among this season’s Alabama seniors: John Petty Jr., Herb Jones and Alex Reese all mentioned it frequently after the Crimson Tide clinched the title.

Davison won’t have the entire burden of repeating that on his shoulders. He will have to learn SEC-level defense, adapting to the Nate Oats' way of doing things. The physical ability is unquestioned, the skills already more polished than a year ago. There will be nights where he will stand out, but, importantly, there will be nights when he can blend in.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt