It wasn’t a question of athleticism — Todd Fergot had seen the potential in this freshman since he was a 4-year-old — but the Central High School boys basketball coach almost couldn’t believe what he saw.
In the Red Raiders’ WIAA Division 2 state semifinal game against Waunakee in 2017, the Warriors turned a loose ball into a fast break that seemed primed to finish with an easy lay-in at the other end. That was before a Central player came out of nowhere and blocked the layup.
“You had to do a double-take and think, ‘Gosh, who just did that? Was that Kobe (King)?’ Because that was something that Kobe would do,” Fergot said. “It wasn’t. It was Johnny (Davis). I think that kind of put him on the stage.”
Johnny Davis commanded that stage and captivated the Coulee Region and the state of Wisconsin with highlight reel play after highlight reel play for the rest of his high school career. Next year, the 6-foot-5 senior will trade the friendly confines of the Mark Sutton Memorial Gymnasium for the Kohl Center as a member of the University of Wisconsin’s men’s basketball team.
“Johnny is athletic as any athlete that I’ve seen come through Central,” Fergot said. “Now, I’m not saying he’s more athletic because there have been some really good ones, but he’s as athletic as I’ve seen or coached. And his competitiveness, I think, really separates him from a lot of other really talented players.”
Davis flashed his ability as a freshman, including that play against Waunakee, but truly began to realize his potential as a sophomore, starting with a 46-point performance in Central’s season opener at Eau Claire North, which remains a career-high. He posted at least 25 points in eight games and averaged 22.7 points as a sophomore, and the prolific scoring continued the next two years.
Davis upped his average to 23 points and 9.3 rebounds per game as a junior and then 27.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as a senior. But it wasn’t just the gaudy numbers that made Davis so impressive, though he does leave Central as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,158 career points. It was how he played and his ability to rise to the moment.
Emphatic, one-handed slams after picking an opponent’s pocket were commonplace, as were two-handed finishes on alley-oops from his twin brother, Jordan. His first step punished defenders, whether going all the way to the rim or stopping on a dime for a patented pull-up jumper. His 3-point shooting improved, too, particularly as a senior, when he shot 42.9 percent (30-for-70) from deep.
And all along the way, Davis thrived in big games. He averaged 23.6 points in five postseason games as a sophomore, including 24 points in a sectional semifinal win over MVC rival Onalaska. As a junior, Davis posted 24.7 points per game in three wins over the Hilltoppers and led the Red Raiders to their fourth straight state tournament, where they fell by one point in overtime to Milwaukee Washington in the semifinals despite 31 points from Davis.
“For a lot of guys, the game kind of speeds up, and they don’t maybe play as well,” Fergot said. “For him, it kind of slows down. I don’t know, it’s like he was meant for those games and those moments.”
But Davis saved the best for last.
As a senior, he dazzled with 42 points against Minnehaha Academy (Minn.) and averaged 26.3 points in three games at the Montverde Invitational in Florida, including a 37-point performance against Long Island Lutheran (N.Y.).
“The guys they have down there, many of those guys are going to be playing in the NBA,” Fergot said. “And Johnny was really as good as any of them there. He made the all-tournament team.”
Now, Davis is focused on preparing for his first season with Wisconsin. Fergot feels Davis’ ability, determination and nose for the ball will allow him to contribute early and in a number of ways.
While Davis makes that next step and takes his talents elsewhere, those in the Coulee Region can take solace in the fact that it won’t be hard to follow the journey of one of the area’s more electric players.
In this Series
Super seniors: 8 La Crosse area high school athletes who received Division I basketball scholarships
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