Did Alabama signee J.D. Davison have the best high school basketball career in state history?
The upperclassmen shot around in Calhoun's gym four years ago, and to the side stood Jerdarrian "J.D." Davison, an eighth-grader mapping out his future. He and Tigers' coach Ervin Starr watched videos of NBA hopefuls Collin Sexton, John Petty and M.J. Walker, whom Starr worked with in high school.
The latter drew Davison's interest.
"What did that guy get?" Davison asked Starr. "Do you think I'm as good as (Walker) is?"
It was a tough question for Starr. Walker was a 6-foot-5 shooter at an Atlantic Coast Conference contender. Walker was also a McDonald's All-American, perennial All-State honoree and a widely considered top-25 prospect. Starr said it was hard to compare.
"Well," Davison said, "whatever he got, I want it."
Fast-forward to the present and Davison has it: Three-time All-State, two-time All-Metro player of the year, twice honored as the state's Mr. Basketball, McDonald's All-American and consensus top point guard per 247Sports and state champion. When considered in totality, a natural question arises: Did J.D. Davison have the best high school career in Alabama boys basketball history?
Davison chuckled at the thought. "No, that's not something I think of," he said. "... That's just not me."
Starr isn't afraid to rank him: "Individually, he has to be top five."
No matter which metrics or awards you value, it's hard to leave Davison out of the conversation.
Parker's Wendell Hudson led his squad to 33 wins and the first integrated state tournament title in 1969. Colbert County's Leon Douglas dominated the '70s, eventually becoming Alabama's first player to be drafted in the first round. Andalusia's Robert Horry set records and won seven NBA championships. There are also four other back-to-back ASWA Mr. Basketball winners, with Mountain Brook's Trendon Watford and Petty from J.O. Johnson paving the way for Davison.
However, the 6-foot-3 guard — who averaged 32.4 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists as a senior (J.F. Shields' John Drew still holds the record for career scoring at 41 points per game) — generated publicity for Calhoun, potentially making the story of Davison's rise a deciding factor in the debate.
In Davison's freshman season, Starr had a difficult time compiling a schedule. No one wanted the small school in Lowndes County in their gym. A fellow coach and friend of Starr's had a spot in a tournament that inadvertently led to Davison's emergence.
Against Brew Tech, Davison stole the ball at mid-court, creating a collision course between him and a 6-foot-10 senior at the rim. "Oh, this is gonna be good," Starr thought to himself. Even he didn't know what the ensuing dunk would trigger.
"Once that video went viral and got around, everyone was like, 'Wait a minute, who's the kid at Calhoun?'" Starr said.
Suddenly finding top games wasn't that hard for the Tigers. It also wasn't uncommon for other high schools to offer Davison a bigger platform. But Davison didn't need to go anywhere to attract more eyes. He could play his way onto college recruiters' phones and Twitter feeds.
Search Davison's name on YouTube. There are highlight videos, reactions to the highlights and breakdowns of the flashy dunker with a media-friendly head of orange hair.
The 3-pointer to beat Barbour County in the 2A title game his junior year, the 102-point two-game outburst to start his senior season, and Davison's personal favorite, a through-the-legs dunk in a rivalry game. Each clip adding more lore to Davison's legacy.
Nick Ramos, also known as NickInDaCut, is a videographer who's followed Davison the past few years. For him, there's no question: Davison is the most popular high schooler in the country. The "Humble" video series is in its third season and has garnered more than 1 million views on YouTube, a few of them coming from Davison himself. He said he frequently watches episodes to see his teammates, his extended family, smiling and enjoying the work paying off.
Davison said he's stayed humble. It's even tattooed on his right forearm. Starr noticed that in the year following Calhoun's championship. With the pressure off Davison, the guard enjoyed his senior season. He showed a willingness to break out high-risk dunks in games and give the crowds there to see him a show.
"It really surprised me," Davison said. "I knew I was going to be big, but I never thought I was going to be this big."
In the weeks since Calhoun's season ended in the final four, Davison dotted across the country to showcases and dunk contests. Ever-present on the dashboard of his car was the Alabama hat he donned on signing day. Watching the Crimson Tide's NCAA Tournament run generated more motivation.
He's in transition, about to be faced with a new set of challenges and competition. Yet, a rare moment of reflection came after the Tigers fell to Midfield in the semifinals in Birmingham. After postgame interviews, Davison walked into a locker room that, to his surprise, wasn't somber. Teammates were grateful. There were no tears, just an appreciation of the run they had been through and what's next.
"In there," Davison said, "I looked at everyone in the eyes and like, it's over but it's all right. It wasn't, but it was."