Even while he was lying in a Philadelphia hospital last February with a bullet lodged in his knee, former Towson basketball star John Davis refused to give up on his professional hoops dream.
He knew his college career was over. No doubt about that. There were only a few weeks left of a senior season in which he was moving up the Tigers’ all-time scoring and rebounding lists.
He knew his life was no longer in danger, though it certainly had been a few hours earlier when a drive-by shooter sprayed Davis and a group of friends with gunfire outside his family home in South Philadelphia.
He knew he was lucky.
“No, blessed,” Davis said recently, like a young man of faith who knows that everything happens for a reason.
He certainly could not have imagined that — almost one year later — he would be headed halfway around the world to resume his basketball career in the South East Australian Basketball League, which just shows how far he’s willing to go to make a comeback.
The trauma doc that night told him he would make a full recovery, and Davis — a young father who had stayed in Philadelphia after Towson’s Feb. 11, 2017, game against Drexel that night to be at the christening of his then-9-month-old son Bryson — hobbled into church on crutches the next morning with much reason to be thankful.
He and another member of the group were struck in what appeared to be a random series of shootings that night, but both survived. The Philadelphia Police have made no arrests in the case, which they say remains open.
Davis doesn’t know why it happened and said he’s certain he wasn’t a specific target. If not for the christening, he would already have been back at school by then instead of caught in the cycle of urban violence that took his father away from him when he was just 7 years old.
“We were just out there having a good time,” Davis said. “It was an emotional high. Everybody was happy to see me. They hadn’t seen me in a few months. Everybody was just having a good time and a car just came past and they started shooting. I definitely wasn’t a target of it. I’m not involved in those kind of things. It was just wrong place at the wrong time, and it just happened to happen when I was there.”
Five days later, he was at SECU Arena to watch his teammates score a lopsided win over Elon and to crack the books. He graduated three months later with a degree in communication studies, but he knew he wasn’t through with basketball.
Davis just needed one more opportunity and that came when the Luina Geelong Supercats got a look at him at the Aussie Basketball Combine in Philadelphia in September. He will head down under in February, almost exactly a year after that terrifying night.
It’s a long way from the NBA in more ways than one, but Davis is looking forward to what promises to be quite an opportunity … and adventure.
“From what I hear, you can make a career out of the place,” he said. “I’m just going to go there and play and let the chips fall where they may. I’m just going there to have a good time and win a championship in Australia.”
To hear Towson coach Pat Skerry tell it, it would be foolhardy to count Davis out of anything he sets his mind on.
“He’ll do great,” Skerry said. “I think it’s an awesome experience for him to go to a spectacular part of the world.”
The Supercats general manager had some predictable questions for the man who had Davis under his wing for four years at Towson: Is Davis fully recovered? What kind of young man is he? What kind of on-court intangibles does he possess?
“When he called, he said, ‘To be honest with you, we were really looking for someone that was a little bit bigger, a little bit more athletic and a little more skilled,’ ” Skerry recalled. “I told him we had those conversations every year when we talked about recruiting, and every year he would just beat out whoever we had. So, I said, ‘He’ll find a way to help you. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s a results guy. Not an excuse guy.’
“And obviously, they had questions about what kind of person and I’m like, ‘You won’t find anyone better.’ We got our new offices and I’ve got one jersey hanging up and it’s his. He did a lot for us. I’ve been coaching 26 years and he’s one of my all-time favorite guys.”
Davis had a double-digit scoring average in each of his last three college seasons and led the Tigers in rebounding in two of them. He is one of only six players in school history to total more than 1,000 points and 700 rebounds in his career, and despite missing the final six games last season, he was a second-team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection.
Though Davis said he was recruited to play at more prominent schools, he welcomed the chance to help Skerry rebuild a struggling Towson program four years ago and said this past week that he has never regretted that decision.
“I think I really had a great career at Towson — off the charts,” Davis said. “Not just on the basketball court. Even in the classroom. I met so many people at Towson — lifelong friends that I will go through the rest of my life with. But to sum it up, it was just a great experience all around.”
Skerry still thinks about the morning after the shooting. He was up early watching film when he noticed a missed call on his phone from Davis’ mother, Kimberly Williams, from 5:30 a.m.
“I thought that was a little weird,” Skerry said. “I texted her. ‘Kim, hopefully that was just a butt dial, but let me know.’ Half-hour later, she called. It’s not in the coaching manual how to deal with that. Thank God he’s OK He’s just a world-class guy. He got his degree. Basketball-wise, you’re always going to put an asterisk on that season — what could have been.
“The storybook ending is he’s still with us and we win the last few games and cut down the nets, but the fact that he’s healthy and he’s got his degree and he can play and he’s a father, that’s pretty sizable.”
Davis said he always had faith he’d play basketball again and he can’t wait to see Australia. It figures to be quite a culture shock, but he’s confident he can make a positive impact on his new team.
“I have a 1-year-old son on the verge of being 2,” Davis said. “Every time I looked at him, I never could get down on myself because at the end of the day, it’s not just about me. I have a son to take care of. That was always going to be my motivation, also my family and my faith in God. My confidence was always through the roof.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.