Justin Davis had a sensational junior year for the Hoboken High School basketball team. Davis averaged 21 points and eight rebounds per game for the Redwings, as they rolled all the way to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championship game.
But that wasn’t enough for the 6-foot-2 Davis. He wanted more.
“After the season I had, it definitely gave me a lot of confidence,” Davis said. “But I wasn’t satisfied.”
So Davis hooked up with a strong AAU program, Team Blade out of Newark, to play with over the summer, facing some of the top competition in the state.
“I love playing against the best players,” Davis said. “We played in the Montclair summer league and I had the chance to face guys like [Hudson Catholic standout junior] Elijah Muhammad and [Teaneck senior] Leondre Washington. Playing against the best competition also boosted my confidence.”
Davis also worked diligently on his own every single day, especially playing with the ball in his hands.
“I worked on handling the ball,” Davis said. “I went out on my own to work on it. I knew that the ball was going to be in my hands and I had to do more with it. I worked on my outside shot, because I knew I was going to have more opportunity to shoot the three [point shot]. I worked out every single day during the summer. I didn’t take a break.”
Davis knew that he had to make a change in his game if he wanted to play in college. There isn’t a lot of room for 6-foot-2 power forwards in the college game on any level. So Davis had to transform himself into more of a guard than a power forward.
“I didn’t need Coach Shaun [Kolmer] to tell me,” Davis said. “I knew I had to be more of a guard. That’s what I’ll have to play in college.”
Kolmer knew that Davis needed a slight transformation.
“I didn’t ask him to shoot the three last year,” Kolmer said. “I could see that he worked on that. He’s both our best post player and our best shooter. His 3-point shot developed nicely. It’s a little bit of a dilemma. But Justin worked hard on his ball handling and shooting.”
Kolmer started to get comfortable with the idea.
“I like having the ball in the hands of my best player,” Kolmer said. “I think the other players realized that he had to have the ball more.”
It’s hard, because the Redwings have another extremely talented player and scorer in Tyshon Hanberry, who averaged nearly 18 points per game last season.
“Tyshon is a very good player,” Kolmer said. “But Justin is the one who takes on the pressure to win the game, take over with the game on the line. We’re always going to Justin.”
The Redwings started the season with losses to Marist and North Bergen. When the Redwings faced Dickinson last week in the third game of the season, Davis stepped forward.
“He said to me, ‘I’m not going to let us be 0-3,’” Kolmer said. “He said that we were too good to be 0-3.”
At halftime of the Dickinson game, Davis had only 10 points.
“But he turned it on in the second half,” Kolmer said.
“I knew that I could hit the open shot,” Davis said. “I felt like I couldn’t miss.”
Davis ended up scoring a career-high 41 points in the Redwings’ 92-88 overtime victory.
“It was a season-saving win,” Kolmer said. “We were down three in overtime and he nailed a 3-pointer and then he hit another three to win it. When he said he wasn’t going to let us lose, he meant it.”
“When I was younger, I never had a 20-point game and wondered if I could ever get 20,” Davis said. “Then I got 20. I then wondered if I could ever get 30. Now, I ended up getting 41. It’s a great feeling.”
In the early going of the season, Davis is averaging 26 points per game. He hit three 3-pointers in the win over Dickinson and also grabbed 12 rebounds. He had 33 points in a loss to Bayonne and had four treys in that one. He scored 26 points against Marist and had 16 points and eight rebounds against Marist.
For his efforts, Davis has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. Davis, who also earned the honor once last season (March 20, 2016), is the first honoree of the winter scholastic sports season that began a few weeks ago.
Davis, whose father, Jerome, was a standout player at St. Peter’s College in the late 1990s, said that his father remains his chief critic.
“He’s really helped me,” Davis said. “It’s great getting that kind of support. He leads me in the right direction, because he’s already been there.”
The “there” that Justin Davis is talking about is college basketball. Right now, there have not been a host of schools knocking down Davis’ door to get to him.
“I’ve had a lot of [NCAA] Division IIs and some D-IIIs,” Davis said. “I hope to get better looks and we’ll see what happens.”
When someone averages 26 points per game, like Davis has done early on, then someone has to take at least a peek.
“With the game on the line, we always look to Justin,” Kolmer said. “He’s our go-to guy.”
“I had nothing to do but succeed this year,” Davis said. “And we’re going to win the state title this year. We have way more depth and a lot of good younger players. We’re all stepping it up together.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com