Gavin Davis Kept The Dream Alive at West L.A.
Gavin Davis had just helped his team secure a hard-fought victory.
Yet he did not return home elated.
He did not return home oozing with pride.
He opened the door, saw his dad and broke down in tears.
Birth Of A Dream
Kevin Davis, a devoted Los Angeles Lakers fan, instilled a love for the purple and gold into his son Gavin the minute of his birth on October 4, 2002, in Harbor City, California.
In addition to watching the Lakers make magic on the court, Gavin grew up admiring his older brother Elijah play for the Compton Air Force.
Gavin followed his brother's footsteps and joined the Air Force's five and under-team. Traveling throughout the city, they won multiple tournaments.
"We were the best team in Compton," Gavin remarked.
Gavin knew his ultimate goal: play in the NBA.
But unlike other classmates, he had no doubt. He knew that the odds were one in a million. And he didn't care.
However, merely playing in the schoolyard wouldn't sufficiently improve Gavin's game. He had to go out in the parks and match up against the real competition.
Unfortunately, playing came with a risk.
A big risk.
One could hear gunshots whistling.
And bullets ricocheting.
But Gavin was willing to take the risk. Though not even in first grade, he wanted to do whatever it took to make the NBA.
No, not ok, according to his dad.
Kevin couldn't possibly chance his boys becoming victims of the rampant violence.
Yet he also wanted to support their love of basketball. If they couldn't play in the park, how could they play at all? He needed a plan.
Well, they could wake up early, really early. And he'd then drive them to a local school with no fear at all.
So, they did.
Gavin and Elijah worked on their dribbling and shooting skills, making the most of their time.
These morning workouts did wonders for Gavin's game, allowing him to stand out among his teammates rather than being just another player.
Gavin had the opportunity to demonstrate his abilities in his next tournament, hosted by his own team. The Air Force looked to defend their home turf against the elite L.A. Bobcats.
Gavin dove on the court for every loose ball and drove the lane aggressively on offense.
With time winding down, the score remained close. Gavin found himself with the ball behind the 3-point line.
Shot goes up . . .
And . . .
And a possible life changer. The L.A. Bobcats asked him to join their team. Over three years, he received great exposure, won a plethora of games and played an important role on a ranked team in California.
Middle School Schooling
Gavin couldn't wait to play for his middle school team after his success with the Bobcats.
At tryouts, Gavin and his small, bony frame went toe-to-toe with the experienced and physical upperclassmen.
They exposed his flaws. His confidence waned.
And he didn't make the team.
Gavin then dedicated that season to growing his game.
His first stop: the backyard and one-on-one battles with big brother Elijah.
Gavin had a significant challenge on his hands from the bigger and stronger Elijah. Knocking and shoving Gavin into the dirt became a ritual when the two brothers matched up.
While he may have shed a tear or two due to the physicality, he didn't fold.
Instead, he rose up - and lost again. And again. And again. And then, finally, the pain became Elijah's.
Gavin managed to beat him.
"My brother's the reason I got better," Gavin said. "I wanted to be able to say I was the best basketball player in my family."
Gavin now had all the tools necessary to make his middle school team, or did he?
When it came time for tryouts in seventh grade, he had a chip on his shoulder.
He let his hustle walk the talk, securing a spot on the team. His love for the game never wavered, and the work he put in finally showed.
"In middle school, I was the defender. I would hustle, grab rebounds, and dive on the floor. That's the type of player I was," Gavin said.
The following season, Gavin's team made the playoffs. Advancing far could get him noticed by the top high schools in the area, which in Gavin's mind, could get him one step closer to "The League." Yes, merely in eighth grade, he had his NBA plans all laid out.
As Gavin and his team prepared, his mother brought some troubling news: He would not be participating in the playoff game.
"My mom was like, 'You have to have good grades to play', I had a bad grade."
"I think at that time I did it because I wanted Gavin to understand that basketball wasn't life and that you needed the education to back you up," Pennelope Davis, Gavin's mother said.
Then something happened that neither Gavin nor his mom fully understood.
She learned that an eight pound tumor had grown on her kidney.
But that was not the worst part.
The tumor had burst and caused life threatening internal bleeding.
Gavin did not know if the final moments of being with his mom were upon him.
"It was hard for me because I was always with my mom growing up. I'm like a Mama's boy," Gavin said.
Pennelope was a huge part of his support system, writing him inspirational quotes, giving him the confidence to play, and even challenging him to a game of one-on-one on occasion.
"I'm just thinking a whole bunch of bad outcomes with my mom, and just, it kind of made me depressed," Gavin said.
Gavin needed to take a break from basketball.
"I wasn't worried about basketball that much. It's more really just having my mom home."
About a year passed, and Mom still struggled with recovering from her surgeries.
But there had been other improvements. Significant improvements.
Significant enough for Gavin to return to basketball.
"Just seeing her be able to go through all that pain and still have a smile on her face, I admire and look up to my mom," Gavin said.
High School Highs And Lows
Gavin's dream of reaching the NBA remained strong in ninth grade.
He started his high school tenure playing with the JV team at Narbonne. An ideal setting for a freshman: improve then make varsity as a sophomore.
So, Gavin tried to improve.
And sophomore year came.
And he was back on JV.
Gavin believed that he had become exactly what he did not want - just another player, even in the ranks of junior varsity.
"My expectation was to play varsity and be scoring. And the reality was I was on JV, we were winning, but I wasn't scoring like 20 points a game. I was just like an average player."
"I remember coming home after a game, and I was like, I don't want to play basketball anymore," Gavin said. "I wasn't really getting the opportunities I needed, so I was like, there's no point in doing it."
Despite having played respectable game, Gavin could see the dream he had since the age of five crumbling.
That's when he saw his dad and broke down. And that's also when Dad stepped in.
Kevin consoled him and urged him to continue to pursue his NBA dream. His mom also shared with Gavin that his journey would have road bumps, but he should stay the course.
"She always pushed me to keep going," Gavin said.
The following day he came to a realization.
"If I'm not going to play basketball, what else am I doing? There was nothing else I could see myself doing outside of basketball."
But he had to make varsity his junior year - he just had to - if he had any chance of playing at the collegiate level, let alone making it to the NBA.
"I always wanted to play college basketball and play in the NBA. I remember watching something about the Fab Five at Michigan. I was like, oh, that looks really cool. I really wanted to be like one of them growing up."
So, Gavin went back to training in his backyard with the assistance of Elijah. This time it was less one-on-one. Instead, skill development became the sole purpose.
Elijah made Gavin work. Hard.
He incorporated dribbling drills with shooting drills. Hard drills.
And eventually the hard work paid off as Gavin became a sure shot.
Gavin had complete confidence that when the varsity coach read off the names of players who made the team, he'd hear his.
Gavin was wrong. Devastating.
But this time, Gavin didn't waste time being depressed.
"I might as well toughen up and get through this," Gavin said.
With his third year of junior varsity closing, Gavin's will remained strong. Then some unexpected news arrived when the playoffs started for Narbonne.
He got called up to varsity.
Gavin could finally see his resiliency turning into results. Yet, he had to wait another season to log legitimate minutes.
Gavin now unquestionably needed a stellar senior season to receive any college interest.
With his NBA dream hanging in the balance, He figured out what it meant to go all in.
"I thought I was taking it seriously, but that's when I started taking the game more seriously, like training, not just in my backyard, going to the gym and training and getting shots up and learning more about basketball."
Shooting 500 shots a day, along with his growth spurt to 6'4, he could see the difference.
"I really felt myself getting better. I was getting taller, stronger, and learning how to use my body jumping-wise," Gavin said. "Everything improved from the previous year. "
How could he keep any dream alive of making the NBA if he couldn't make his high school team? He just needed to make the team his senior year.
That didn't happen. He didn't just make the team.
He earned a starting spot and became one of the leaders.
Gavin was determined to capitalize on his newfound opportunity. He led his team to the Division 1 city championship, a feat never before accomplished by Narbonne.
They then had a chance for something incredibly special - a chance to make a lifelong memory.
But they lost.
And Gavin failed to make his hoped-for impact.
Elijah seeing this unfold right before him, provided Gavin a new sense of perspective.
"I talked to him, just giving him that older brother advice saying you'll come back from this, and there'll be other opportunities for you to win.'"
A few weeks later an opportunity came knocking.
West Los Angeles Community College's head coach, Anthony "T" Jones, pitched Gavin on continuing his basketball career there.
So after a year at TMG Prep with his former AAU teammate, Nico Johnson, Gavin signed with the Wildcats. And took one step closer to his ultimate goal.
"I went to West LA because they were the first school that hit me," Gavin said. "I didn't really see anything wrong with Juco. I see people get out of Juco. They go Division One. . . . Why can't I do the same thing?"
Expecting to play for one season and transfer, Gavin discovered that a lot of work had to be done before advancing to the next level.
"I started the season well, and then I started getting into my head too much.”
He began overthinking basketball and what he should do on the court.
“It was just messing me up.”
He had never before thought his NBA dream could end because of too much thinking.
Just think less. Seems easy enough. It is not. And Gavin struggled.
Then Coach Jones stepped in.
"The one thing that I tried to help him with," said Coach Jones, "was just getting out of his head and taking it to a place to where basketball is a game. It's fun. . . . When he got out of his head and he took it back to his childhood, where it was fun just playing on the playground, you could see it on the court."
"I got a whole bunch of lectures from Coach T. I wouldn't say he's hard on me. He's really just coaching me. So, it was really making me better."
Gavin averaged 6.1 points and 2.5 rebounds, earning him an offer from Division 2 offer Benedict College.
Appreciative of the opportunity, Gavin opted to stay at West LA in pursuit of that coveted Division One scholarship. Still dreaming of the NBA.
But he needed to make the transition from being a part of the supporting cast member to becoming a leader.
It began with even more work.
"I'd be with my trainer, and then West LA, they'd have runs or like workouts, and I'll go, just to get extra work."
"He came back his sophomore year saying, 'Coach, I want to step my roll up and be that guy'," assistant coach Tristan Taylor said. "He definitely put in countless hours in the weight room and on the court."
A chip on his shoulder, the second-year Wildcat set out to prove the critics of West LA wrong.
"Nobody really thought we'd even make the playoffs or have an above 500 record," Gavin mentioned.
And their opening game - a loss. Not the start the Wildcats expected,.
But Gavin and his team countered that defeat with a five game winning streak, one of those coming against Last Chance U's East LA Community College.
As one of the Wildcats' top scores, his impact showed greatly, and his teammates began to notice.
"He had to be one of our leaders, be one of our glue guys, hold everybody together and be one of our main options," said Gavin's teammate, Karlin Brown.
Division one schools started to trickle in, taking note of Gavin.
The goal was simple: just keep winning.
"Win the conference, and then after that . . . win state."
They then went to Porterville and lost 2 straight games. This led to an unwanted pattern. Win a few, lose a few. Win a few more, lose a few more.
As a leader, Gavin had to set an example. He had to find a way to play more consistently. He had to try to find a way to play more passionately.
And he did.
It rubbed off on his teammates with an impressive late season 5-game winning streak.
Then the SOCAL Regional playoffs arrived.
Round One: West LA matched up against Allan Hancock CC - win or go home.
The two teams put on a show with neither ready to end their season.
Down 73-72 with 13 seconds left to play in the game, West LA placed the ball in the hands of their trusted leader, Gavin.
The atmosphere was electric, and the clock was ticking slower than usual.
Gavin needed to get a shot off.
With five seconds remaining, he sized up his defender.
Three seconds . . . He drives past his defender.
Two seconds . . .The shot goes up.
The clock hits zero . . . and the final score . . . wait, foul!
With no time remaining, Gavin still had a chance.
Make two free throws and win the game.
He knocks the first one down, 73-73. Hancock calls a timeout to ice Gavin.
Gavin walked up to the line, received the ball from the referee, and took a deep breath.
The ball went up . . .
West LA wins it 74-73!
Gavin had a monster game, nearly tallying a triple-double.
Though the Wildcats came up short in the next round, the season can only be described as a success.
"I say we proved a lot of people wrong coming into the year," Gavin said.
West LA finished the season 19-11 overall and #2 in their conference. Not bad for a team, not expected to come close to this.
Gavin finished the season averaging a team-high 14.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game and made first-team all-conference.
Now what’s next?
Gavin has recently committed to playing for UC Riverside - that's Division 1 UC Riverside
He will now become D1 student-athlete, a feat that not many accomplish. Yet his ultimate goal remains unchanged: having a chance to compete at the highest level, the NBA.
Will he get there? His coaches think he can.
"He has the tools, the frame and everything," Coach Taylor said. "If he just stays in that weight room and works on those shots, he has it cause he's a legit 6'6, and . . . he already defends."
"That opportunity of being on a platform of a division one school, working the way he knows how to work, he'll reach his goal . . ." Coach Jones said.
But what happens next doesn’t really matter. Gavin Davis has already accomplished something that most people don’t even try. He has taken steps, big steps, toward a seemingly impossible dream.
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