A basketball bounced his way, and Johnny Davis grabbed it, squared up and took a shot at one of the baskets on a new court recently installed as an extension of his family home in La Crosse.
He made it, of course. The difference in this shot versus any other he has taken recently was the setting.
His cousins, Jojo and Jazzy, smacked a volleyball around with a few friends in one corner. The powerhouse King family from just across the Mississippi River in Caledonia, Minn. — Brad, Owen, Noah and Eli were all there — talked in another. Johnny’s dad, Mark, also encouraged a constant flow of guests into the new space to proudly show it off.
“Come on,” Mark said on repeat as people arrived, “You’ve got to see the court.”
No one was critiquing the shot, no one was challenging the shot, and there was no one to impress by dropping it through the net. The last several months of his life have been nothing but that for Davis, so this was a welcomed change.
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The 20 or 30 people surrounding him were instead enjoying the company during a celebration for the kid everyone was so proud of.
They had seen over the years how hard Johnny worked for the opportunity he’s been given, and this Saturday gathering that Mark and Sarah Davis set up for their son was for them to share with the Washington Wizards’ first-round draft choice.
“Whenever I have time,” Johnny said while sitting on a couch in the family’s trophy room, “I’ll make sure to come back here and spend time with my family like this.”
It’s important for Johnny to just be able to be Johnny, and this was an opportunity to do that among a house, garage and gym full of friends and family sharing stories, asking questions and emptying the contents of tables filled with food.
Oh, and making sure they got photos with their newest favorite player in the NBA.
“It’s good to see him back and with the family,” said his brother, Jordan, who still has three basketball seasons of eligibility remaining at the University of Wisconsin. “We all know how proud we are of him, and it’s nice to have this many people here today to tell him that.”
The previous two weeks were a whirlwind.
Johnny transitioned from workouts in Miami to pre-event activities for the NBA Draft, to learning about and starting to become familiar with his new co-workers in D.C. It was a lot to take in as a dream became reality.
“It was such a busy week (before the draft), and then it all happened so fast,” Johnny said of hearing commissioner Adam Silver call his name at the Barclays Center on June 23. “Sometimes, it still doesn’t even feel real.”
Davis said his agents offered him the option of updates and a range of where they thought he’d be picked, but that offer was declined.
“I wanted to be surprised,” Johnny said. “The cameras give it away when they come to your table, but being in that environment and seeing the stage and everybody in the crowd is something I’ve watched on TV quite a bit.
“But to be there and get (selected) early, which I’m very grateful for, will be one of the greatest nights of my life.”
That moment immediately made Davis a professional, and he was on a train and off to D.C. the next morning to get started with the first team that scheduled him for an official workout before the draft. A quick minicamp followed, and Johnny pointed to marks on his right arm to prove physicality of those workouts.
Washington was an organization with which he spent some time and felt was a good fit for him as a basketball player, and that made the outcome of the draft that much more special.
“Position-wise, depth chart and as far as getting minutes, I think it was the best fit for me,” said Johnny, who joins Onalaska grad and Chicago Bulls guard Matt Thomas in representing the Coulee Region in the NBA. “Even the city. It’s the nation’s capital, and I have some family from Virginia — they’re here right now — that aren’t too far from there.
“You want to be the highest pick you can be, and the highest team I worked out for was Detroit, which was fifth. It’s more money, publicity, all that. But I’m really happy I fell to 10th. Falling to Washington was a great feeling.”
The contract — Johnny signed his four-year rookie scale deal one day prior to the party, according to the NBA.com transaction log — that came with the draft position made the Central High School graduate a rich man, but so did the gathering at his house.
This was the first chance for most in attendance to congratulate him as the first player from La Crosse to be picked in a pro basketball draft since Glen Selbo in 1947. The first chance to share a special moment with someone close to them who is about to be seen doing what he does best in packed arenas around the country with the best of the best.
One step to preparing for that is the NBA Summer League, which the Wizards began in Las Vegas on Saturday evening. Johnny is part of the summer roster, but his playing time will be determined as the games come.
His position is safe with the team after being drafted in the first round, but it provides him with another opportunity to show how his game fits in among the competition. There are many consistent aspects to his game, but one is that Johnny never underestimates an opportunity, and that was proven time and time again while playing at Central and for the Badgers.
Once that ends, he’ll continue to get ready for the season before reporting to D.C. in late August or early September. The Wizards have exhibition games scheduled against the Golden State Warriors on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2 in Japan.
Washington received a boost when it signed 6-foot-3 All-Star Bradley Beal to a contract extension late last month. The Wizards also traded for 6-2 point guard Monte Morris and 6-6 swingman Will Barton, who combined to average more than 27 points per game for Denver last season.
And while the goal is still to play for a team that makes the playoffs and can contend for a championship, roster moves are looked at much more professionally by players. Morris and Barton, while teammates, also represent a threat to potential playing time.
“It’s a challenge for minutes,” Johnny said when asked about the trade. “We’re on the same team, and those are my guys, but in practice I’m trying to go at them and show why I should be playing more.
“It’s a job now. That’s how I have to look at it.”
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX