Photo courtesy of Jon Lopez/Nike
By David Cordova
Every year, or every so often, we hear stories about players that are hidden gems in the beginning who later wind up becoming high-major recruits in just a matter of months or in one year. Those are the kids that worked hard to get where they desired.
For R.J. Davis, such was the case. The 6-foot-1 point guard out of Greenburgh, New York has been a gem ever since his middle school days with the New York Gauchos, and translated that into high school, as he made his presence felt at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains as a freshman.
As a sophomore, he led the Crusaders to a 27-5 record and a CHSAA city championship and the New York State Federation championship. All was going well for Davis, and then reality struck.
During a game on the Under Armour Association circuit with New Heights in April of his sophomore year, Davis sustained an injury that would sideline him for the rest of the spring and the summer.
And then his junior season came and would prove to be a revelation of just how good he would become. Although the Crusaders struggled with injuries and a 14-16 record, they still made it back to the CHSAA championship game, where they would lose to Christ the King. But Davis stood out throughout the season, as he led the Catholic League in scoring with 25.4 points per game.
“It’s been a rollercoaster, my freshman year to my sophomore year, [when] we won the states, junior year, making it back to the championship. It’s just been amazing, man,” said Davis.
On his junior season, he replied, “It’s funny, ‘cause we started 0-and-something, it was a long season. Not a lot of people thought we were going to be where we were. I kept telling my teammates, ‘Ignore the black noise outside and stay true to ourselves,’ and that’s what we did. I love this team, we’re all, you know, unselfish, we play hard, everyone plays their role, and I feel like we’ll have a good team this year.”
After his high school season was over, he joined the New York Rens, which plays on the Nike EYBL circuit and stood out throughout the three sessions in the spring and during the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina, where he put up 35 points and 10 rebounds in one game against Expressions Elite. Throughout his time with the Rens, he averaged 20.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on the EYBL circuit.
When asked about joining the Rens and playing on the Nike EYBL circuit, he replied, “[The] EYBL circuit is arguably the best circuit out there. I exploited my talent, I was able to do my thing, props to Coach Andy [Borman] and the Rens organization for, you know, allowing me to be me and play amongst talented guys [like] Lance Ware, Jonathan Kuminga, Nate Tabor and others, it was just great, I loved the experience.”
On the 35-point, 10 rebound effort against Expressions Elite and the experience of the Peach Jam, he replied, “Peach Jam was unreal, I wanted to come here and make a statement for myself, make a name for myself and just you know, play my game, you know, don’t get too stressed, and do me.”
Earlier this summer, he went to play in the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the campus of the University of Virginia, and showcased his talents in front of plenty of college coaches and NBA scouts.
“I felt amazing,” said Davis about playing in front of the scouts, “They say the NBPA Top 100 is considered to be one of the best camps, you know, just to play in front of NBA scouts, and I did well there, pick & roll, finding guys, it was amazing. I’ll probably say that was one of my best camps I’ve performed at.”
At the camp, he was coached by Justin Anderson, who recently played for the Atlanta Hawks. When asked what words of wisdom the former Virginia star gave him, Davis replied, “Nah, he just told us about his history, as far as his work ethic, he told us to keep working and never get complacent. You know, he’s a great guy, definitely learned a lot from him. As a group, we scouted other players, as far as getting to the championship, and that’s when he said, ‘Take this job seriously. ‘Cause it’s a business.”
Just last month, when he was on an unofficial recruiting visit to Pitt, he was fortunate to meet six-time NBA All-Star Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. When asked about that chance meeting, Davis replied, “I was shocked, I was with my brother, we was shooting around in the gym, and he was like, ‘Steph Curry is here.’ And I was like, ‘Really?’ And I walked outside and I was shocked. You know, my eyes almost popped out of my head. You know he’s a very genuine guy and we just talked about basketball and about life, and then after that day, he invited me to his camp, which was surreal.”
On his sudden invitation to the SC 30 Select Showcase in Walnut Creek, California, he replied, “At first, I wasn’t initially invited to the camp. We were playing H-O-R-S-E, and then he was like, ‘Are you coming to my camp?’ I said no, and then he personally invited me and so I had to take that [invite] and I went out there to California, and did my thing.”
During the showcase game, he had a major moment when he hit five-star recruit Jalen Suggs with a crossover, which went viral all over social media and YouTube. When asked about what he was thinking about when he hit Suggs with the move, he replied, “At that moment, what I was going to do, I was going to reject the screen, but you know, then he happened to fall, so afterwards, I hit the shot. I was amazed, because the whole crowd went wild, and I was going to run back, but then Big Ed [Lumpkin] picked me up. The video went viral after that and Steph Curry’s reaction was just crazy.”
Now that all of the summer hoopla has died down, Davis is now focusing on his senior season with Crusaders. But he is also focusing on his recruitment, which is now down to four schools: Pittsburgh, Georgetown, North Carolina and Marquette.
Each of the four schools has an important sell in the RJ Davis Sweepstakes. North Carolina has their lineage and history and also has a New Yorker in McDonald’s All-American Cole Anthony, who once played for Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood, Queens, where he played against Davis many times.
Then there’s the matter of Georgetown and its head coach Patrick Ewing, the legendary New York Knicks star and Hoyas legend who has been recruiting Davis heavily and even came out to the city championship game at Fordham University in The Bronx last March and to the recent open gym earlier this month at Stepinac, with his each of his assistant coaches in tow both times. If either of the Hoyas’ sophomore guards in Mac McClung and James Akinjo were to depart for the greener pastures of the NBA, then chances are very high that Davis could be in a Georgetown uniform.
And lastly, there’s Pittsburgh and Marquette, both of whom present the option of Davis starting from day one. For the Golden Eagles, just like the Hoyas, they play in the Big East and have the lure of Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament in March. Plus, the reigning Big East Player of the Year, Markus Howard, will graduate next May and presents a chance for Davis to do his thing in the FiServ Forum, the one-year old, 17,500-seat arena, which also houses the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.
With the Panthers, they play in a power conference called the ACC, which is also the home of the Tar Heels. But with second-year head coach Jeff Capel and his staff in the midst of building something new, Davis could be the point guard of the future potentially holding his own against other programs such as North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Syracuse.
But before he makes his decision, he must focus on another goal, which is bringing the Crusaders their second CHSAA title in three years. With a lot of their core healthy and ready to go, there’s no reason why Stepinac can’t run off to the races with the leader.
“My goals, I would say, [are to] win another city and state championship, grow as the leader of this team, as a veteran, get my body right for the next level, and continue to grow as a person, and yes, I do believe we can win another city and state championship.”