A year ago, Javontae McDavid was a soft-spoken point guard on a Columbus High School boys basketball team packed with size, athleticism, and front-court punch.
Listed at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, McDavid played a key role in averaging 7.2 points per game and helping to lead the Falcons (22-6) to the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A tournament.
But “Deuce Mac” has bigger plans for his senior season. That’s why he wanted to make a statement that he and the rest of the Falcons are primed to make a run at a state title.
On Monday night at Purple Madness, the official kickoff party for the 2015-16 season, a packed gym of Columbus High School fans — many wearing purple and gold or Purple Madness T-shirts — were on hand to get a glimpse of the potential McDavid and the Columbus High boys and girls basketball teams have to offer. McDavid did his part by winning the boys’ 3-point shooting and slam dunk contests.
“I really didn’t think I was going to be able to win the dunk contest,” McDavid said. “Me and Cam(eron) Douglas) had another dunk set up, but he didn’t make it to the next round. When Robert made his dunk, it really excited me. When I went up for the second dunk, I felt a little adrenaline in me, so I just went up and finished it off.”
McDavid had to make seven 3-pointers in a 30-second tiebreaker after he was tied with two teammates at eight made treys in the first round. In the final, “Deuce Mac,” as nicknamed by the evening’s master of ceremonies, made 11 3-pointers to claim his first title.
McDavid capped his evening by defeating 6-6 sophomore guard/forward Robert Woodard II in the slam dunk contest. In the preliminary round, Woodard II used a pass from McDavid, who was standing midway up the first section of bleachers to the right of the basket, to record his first dunk. McDavid countered by shooting the basketball in front of the rim and timing his leap to throw it down.
Pared from four to two competitors in the final, Woodard II had an impressive between the legs tomahawk slam on his final dunk, but McDavid countered by shooting the ball in front of the rim and doing a 360-degree spin in front of the rim. He timed his elevation just right so he could get a hand on the basketball and flush it through the basket. The jam helped him edge Woodard II for the crown.
“I had already planned the second dunk,” said McDavid, who was one of the Falcons wearing new uniform tops with new white shorts with yellow stripes and purple and black camouflage patches on the sides. “When I saw Robert make his, I was excited for him.
“When I went up, I was planning to go up with two hands, but somehow the ball got stuck in my right hand, so I just finished it off.”
McDavid admitted he has heard “Deuce Mac” as a nickname but it hadn’t stuck prior to Monday night. After hearing it in front of a packed house and seeing everyone like it, McDavid said he hopes he will hear the nickname more often this season because he said he and the Falcons have been working hard under new Columbus High boys basketball coach Luther Riley to raise expectations.
Riley, who won four state titles and a Grand Slam championship at John W. Provine High, has brought a new level of excitement to the program. The former men’s basketball coach at Alcorn State helped organize the event, which featured a disc jockey, a musical chairs contest, and a lip sync performance to a song by Ike and Tina Turner, to build support for the Columbus High programs. The festivities attracted a capacity crowd and helped elicit support from McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Crystal Cunningham, marketing manager for McDonald’s in Columbus, West Point, Starkville, Louisville, Macon, and Jackson, presented Riley with a check of $6,000 to the Columbus Boys Boosters. Crystal Cunningham is the wife of former Columbus High and former Mississippi State basketball player Tyson Cunningham.
Riley also said Wendy’s has pledged support of $5,000 to the basketball program.
“I think the turnout was great,” Riley said. “I think the city is excited. They guys have worked hard. We are just looking forward to the season and we are, too.”
Riley took a page from Kentucky men’s basketball coach in saying “administrations win championships.” He credited Columbus Superintendent of Schools Dr. Philip Hickman, Mayor Robert Smith, Nancy Carpenter, of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, and many others for offering their support and adding to the excitement of the season-opening event. He hopes everyone in attendance comes back and helps push both teams to realize their high expectations.
“That has been my trademark, I can try to compete for championships,” Riley said. “When you have a superintendent who is more excited than I am and the players and you have a mayor, the city, the visitors bureau (who are behind us), you have to embrace that. It is a new era and a new energy. That is what we preach all of the time, energy and enthusiasm, and certainly the guys brought it tonight.”
Columbus High junior Briona Green won the girls 3-point shooting contest. Columbus girls basketball coach Yvonne Hairston said her team, which features four seniors — Rokila Wallace, Kayla Rogers, Holly Westbrook, and Jasmine “Snoop” Johnson — hopes to embrace the expectations that face their team, too.
“I truly believe we have an opportunity to win it this year,” Hairston said. “We can score inside and outside, we have good ballhandlers, so we just feel like this is the year for us”
Hairston acknowledges there is a lot of competition in Class 6A, the state’s largest classification, but she feels the team’s experience, depth, and versatility will be key advantages. She hopes the support from the community that she saw Monday will last throughout the season and provide a valuable lift for both teams.
“They are so excited here at Columbus about what we are doing not only in basketball, but in softball, our football team, and the rest of the athletics here,” Hairston said.
McDavid senses that excitement. After he made his second dunk to beat Woodard II, several fans came out of the stands to greet him. The crowd also saved its biggest applause for the winning dunk. McDavid said he hopes he and his teammates will be able to equal that excitement when the season begins Nov. 5 in Columbus.
“It’s exciting,” McDavid said. “We get all of the fans to come out for us now and then when gametime comes they will come out and see us explode.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.