When Devin Davis was a freshman, he was another scrawny, unathletic, wannabe shooter in coach Joe Auer’s stable of Heights basketball players.
Davis made the junior varsity team and earned some playing time, but that was quickly taken away. He was demoted to the bench and forced to watch as his sidekicks won without him. Fast-forward three years and Davis was at the front of every drill during Thursday’s practice. He plays almost every minute and seemingly has Heights on a path toward a state championship.
“This is the most enjoyable season I’ve had playing basketball,” Davis said. “People listen. People trust me and trust Coach Auer.”
Auer said throughout Davis’ first couple of years in the program, he sometimes sulked. He pouted when he missed a shot or struggled in practice. Clearly he wanted to succeed, but he was too immature to handle failure.
He reflected. Davis’ freshman year, Heights won the Class 5A championship over Maize South behind a pair of senior leaders, Semaj Hervey and Chris Lowe.
“I had never led; I wasn’t comfortable with that,” Davis said. “But after being around those guys for a year, it helped me grow into the leader I am today, and coach trusts me to be that guy.”
That is the situation he has fallen into in his last season wearing a Heights uniform. Those same teammates who were on the Wichita courts as freshmen remain, and Davis has become the unquestioned conductor.
Braxton Kirkendoll is dropping 10 points per game. Deante Edwards has blossomed into the engine to the Falcons’ vehicle. And Curtis Profit said he knows his role, distributing to his playmakers and shooting when he needs to.
In front of them all, Davis leads the team in scoring, averaging more than 15 a night with a handful of rebounds. Add his value in leadership, and Davis has become one of the better players in program history.
“He reminds me a little bit of Perry Ellis,” Auer said. “He’s clearly our best player, but he doesn’t need to talk about that.”
Each of the Heights seniors has faced his own verse of struggle. Davis was told he wasn’t good enough to start. Edwards was told he wasn’t good enough to play – cut from the team as a sophomore. And Profit was off the team as a junior because of academic ineligibility. They all said those moments have helped mold them into the team fans see and other teams are having to respect.
The Falcons are 5-0, knocking off Kapaun Mount Carmel in the season opener and surprise team North before the holiday break. They sit atop the City League and are outscoring opponents by more than 15 points a contest.
The beauty of Auer’s group this year is its versatility. Davis is the leader, but he isn’t the only option. There are five Falcons who average more than eight points per game.
Each adds another dimension, and Davis’ is the three-ball. He is shooting 43 percent behind the arc and finished his junior season near that mark, too, earning second team All-Class 5A honors.
Still, Davis doesn’t attract the spotlight. Although his play fills up stat sheets, the unselfish system doesn’t bring a ton of college scouts through the doors.
He received a few Division II offers and committed to Colby College cq, a small liberal arts college in Maine. Davis is set to join the pre-med program and wants to become a doctor down the road, something Auer said he told him his time at Heights will help with.
“Think of all your patients you have every day, all these different guys, all these different personalities,” Auer said he told Davis. “What a great opportunity for you to conquer leadership before you head out into the world.”
Colby is almost 2,000 miles away. He won’t know anyone or bring anyone with him. He said that is a little scary, but for a kid from Wichita, it’s an offer he couldn’t pass up.
Auer used Davis as an example constantly throughout Thursday’s practice. Auer cited Davis’ goals, his commitment to his eduction, his selflessness and how all of those things have gotten him to a point where playing a sport is going to “pay his bills.”
There is a lot of talented youth on Heights’ roster this season, all of whom can learn from the example Davis has set, Auer said. Danair Dempsey is at the forefront of the Falcons’ future.
Dempsey, a 6-foot-5 freshman, has been exposed to fame. He went to Houston Rocket guard Chris Paul’s camp. He has met Kevin Durant, he said. He starts for Heights. And he is still two years away from taking his driving exam.
Edwards, who plays alongside Dempsey in the post, said he has never seen a player as young and talented.
Davis’ importance is amplified because of that, to ground the high-fliers and motivate those getting demoted to the JV team.
For his final season in Wichita, Davis said he wants two things, and one leads to the other.
“I want to be remembered for being the best leader this program has ever had,” Davis said. “And hopefully at the end of the year, winning a state championship will set that in stone.”