Friday, June 2, 2017

Stepinac's Davis Embraces Work Load

R.J. Davis wasn’t supposed to be here.

Not originally.

Not during a matchup of this magnitude.  

The inexperienced freshman was not yet expected to appear on this mountainous stage.

It was late December and Davis had darted his way to starter's minutes and quick-hit production on Stepinac's varsity. 

Davis altered his role entirely during the Battle of The Villages tournament in Central Florida, where Stepinac played a talent-laced Rainey (N.J.) team before a jam-packed crowd.

A few weeks prior to tryouts, few could have envisioned the smaller guard immersed in this moment.

Yet there was the 6-foot left-handed freshman, burying jumpers and driving right at rim protectors. He put the ball on the deck and attacked, without a tinge of trepidation.  

Davis opened eyes this memorable afternoon down south, forever fending off those freshman jitters.

The gritty little point guard scored on a variety of nifty floaters, step-back jumpers, 3-pointers, and transition buckets en route to a 29-point performance.

It was a classic coming out party. This game, above all others, solidified his high-major potential. He proved he wasn't undersized for this level. He eliminated most critics' talk of him being in over his head or underdeveloped.

And so for the remainder of the 2016-17 campaign, Davis' status as a freshman seemed irrelevant.

“That (Rainey game) just sparked my game, it helped me get the confidence to boost my game,” explained Davis, who now holds offers from UMass, Old Dominion, Manhattan, La Salle, and St. Louis while entertaining an uptick of interest from Cal, Villanova, Maryland, and Kansas.

“My jump shots were flowing that day, I was getting into open spots and capitalizing. You know, I was just fighting for my own shot. I didn’t feel like a freshman any more, not after that.”

The 6-foot, 152-pound Davis wound up with season averages of 15 points, 4.8 boards, and 3.9 assists.

For a Stepinac team which squandered a robust 1-2 scoring punch with the departure of Duke-signee Jordan Tucker (Marietta-Wheeler) and 6-foot-6 Aundre Hyatt (The Miller School), Davis’ out-of-nowhere impact was a necessary surprise.

“It’s funny because number one he came in as a kid that really, we didn’t know if he was going to make the varsity,”  explained Stepinac head coach Pat Massaroni.

“Two, we didn’t know if RJ would start. When he progressed, we gave him the opportunity to compete for a spot. He just took it and ran with it. He ended up averaging 15 a game this year. He got guys involved. He went to the line. In 12-13 games, he shot 10 or more free throws. And he won us some big games.”

Davis, the first freshman Stepinac starter since Walter King, is flushed into a prominent role next year. As a sophomore, Davis will seize the leadership reins and lead by action.

“Right now I’m working on getting my teammates going, being the leader out there, orchestrating the offense, and being a straight up pest on defense,” said Davis, who is flanked by heavily-recruited 6-foot-4 shooting guard Alan Griffin.

"Just being me, helping others to become great and get them open shots. I’m willing to do all the little things to help us win.”

As high-majors begin to knock on the door, Davis (who holds a 95 GPA) said basketball has consumed his off-season schedule.

He's spent the off-season training with White Plains native Torey Thomas, the former Trinity Catholic star and Holy Cross guard, gaining strength and improving aspects such as speed and agility.

“I think for him to go to the next level, it’s about doing things that others don’t do. Because he’s got the mind of a coach out there,” Massaroni said.

“It’s just now a matter of him getting a little stronger, getting a little craftier with his game, being able to score on 7-footers with consistency. I think the biggest thing is R.J. continuing to work on his craft—because he’s got it.”

Davis aims to become a more physical threat. Finishing at the rim, absorbing the contact and taking the hits is the main focus.

Throughout a handful of games, more physically mature upperclassmen attempted to push Davis out of his groove with more physical, confrontational pressure. 

 Stepinac is anticipating much of the same in 2018. They can also expect a variety of junk defenses, especially with Davis emerging as a known New York commodity.

He's worked at creating his shot off the dribble while  simultaneously quickening his release.

"As some say, RJ kind of took the opportunity and ran with it this year," said Massaroni, who himself played for the program that's produced Tony Taylor, Melquan Bolding, Ky Guerra, and several other backcourt talent.

“I personally think he’s the best point guard in his class, he’s up there in the country," Massaroni opined.

"He’s competed in the best league, he’s playing in the EYBL right now. He’s a leader at a young age."