July 21, 2014 10:17:41 PM
WEST POINT -- Former West Point High School basketball player Juan Davis heard the same question over and over throughout his junior and senior seasons.
"Who is West Point?"
At a school where football is king, Davis and his teammates set out to make sure the Green Wave's basketball program was no longer taken lightly.
Behind 14 points per game behind Davis, West Point rolled to a 26-6 overall record and qualified for the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
For this success, Davis is being chosen today as The Dispatch's All-Area Large Schools Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
"My 10th grade year, we had eight seniors," Davis said. "Then my senior year, we had eight seniors again. So it was our time to step up and lead. We knew we would have the same starting five in back-to-back years. That is why we worked real hard to make it a landmark season. We wanted other teams to realize they were going to have respect the West Point basketball team. We did pretty good in the end."
West Point ended a two-decade drought of region championships by winning one in Davis' sophomore season. In his junior year, West Point finished 12-10, falling to New Hope on a last-second 3-pointer in the opening round of the region tournament. This past season, the Green Wave won another region title. Both playoff runs ended with home losses to perennial powers Provine (2012) and Callaway (2014).
"It really all started last summer," Davis said. "We came and put in a lot of work. We knew we could make a serious run for the state championship. We spent the whole summer working on our chemistry together. We practiced chemistry and really getting to know each other. The fact that we had played together -- pretty much the entire team the season before -- really helped as well."
West Point quickly sprinted out of the gate to a 12-1 start. The lone loss was a one-sided setback at Starkville.
"After we had a good start, it really settled everybody down," Davis said. "After that, people started asking 'Who is West Point?' We were sneaking up on people because they weren't really expecting us to be that good."
As the Green Wave quickly mounted victories, the student body bought in. A school known for winning state championships in football recorded four sellouts. At one contest, the doors were locked and additional fans were turned away.
"As juniors, we won some games," Davis said. "In our senior season, everybody came back a little bigger and a little stronger. That is part of the reason why people didn't know who we were. As seniors, we wanted to leave something behind that West Point basketball can always be remembered by."
It was the type of vision coach Brad Cox had when the Clay County native took over the West Point program four seasons ago.
"Juan gave us some outstanding leadership," Cox said. "He was a dependable, solid all-around player. He could block shots, get rebounds, make baskets. He really set an example for the younger players. This group played together for so long. They had a comfort level."
That comfort level was severely tested mid-season when Cox cut one day's practice short. He told everyone to go home, based in large part due to Davis' lack of effort.
"He sent everybody home that day and was on me really hard," Davis said. "I knew he wasn't mad at me personally. Instead, he was just mad at how I was performing. Coach Cox always told us to strive for being great, instead of good. He said that great and good were opposites, because you can't be good and great at the same time. That day he cut practice short I knew why he did it. He did it because he wanted me to the best he could be."
For fans already familiar with the Green Wave, they are well aware it starts on the defensive end. The speed and athleticism of West Point made the team hard to guard and difficult to pass around in the open floor.
"It always starts with defense," Davis said. "Everyone comes for the dunks. The best thing about them is that they really get the crowd hyped up. But it started on the defensive end for us. Diquan Ewing was a big shot-blocker. He got like five a game. (Demarius Calvert) got like 10 rebounds per game. It looked like we were playing man, but we could load up in a 2-3 zone with me underneath as well, and pretty much get to everything due to our size."
Davis credits Cox for making it defense first and for working with multiple combinations on the court during his junior season. About midway through that campaign, the team really took flight.
"Coach Cox is like a father figure," Davis said. "He knows what it takes to be prepared for every situation. When we were all juniors, he knew we had the power. He just had to find a way to harness that power and get us going in the right direction. When he got settled in coaching us, that is when we started clicking. This season, he didn't have to coach us on the little things because we had played together long enough to do the little things. That was really a big difference for this team."
Now, Davis is looking to make a difference with another team. After months of agonizing over several junior and senior college choices, Davis decided to stay close to home and play at East Mississippi Community College.
"It's really been hectic since midway though my junior season," Davis said. "God gave me several good offers. Some schools wanted us to come together as a group since we played together so long. I prayed about it and asked for God to allow me to make the best decision possible. I think I did that. This is a great program here. I love the campus. I love the coaches. I love my new teammates."
Davis is also looking forward to playing against former teammates Trey Williams at East Central Community College and Calvert at Meridian Community College.
"It will be different playing against those guys instead of with them," Davis said. "The goal is the same though. I want to win a championship. I want to get a ring. We have a team here capable of doing that."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter