It wasn’t long ago when JR Davis was the new coach on the block. It was 8 years ago when Davis took over the Atwater High girls basketball program.
With so much turnover in coaching the past couple years, especially in girls basketball, Davis is now the dean of Central California Conference girls basketball coaches. Golden Valley, Merced and El Capitan all have first-year coaches this season.
“It’s weird, I felt like the young guys years ago,” Davis said. “Now I feel like I’m the old guy.”
Since Davis, 43, has taken over, Golden Valley has had four different coaches. Merced has had three and Buhach Colony and El Capitan have had two different coaches.
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Having stability at the top has helped Atwater become one of the more consistent programs in the CCC under Davis. The Falcons (13-11, 5-4 CCC) are working toward their fifth consecutive winning season and are once again in playoff contention.
Even after a tough 43-37 loss to Turlock (18-4, 8-0 CCC) at home on Tuesday night.
Davis reached 100 career wins with a win over El Capitan on January 4th. His players rushed him when he walked into the locker room after the game to celebrate.
Davis was aware he was approaching 100 career wins, but after winning No. 98, the Falcons struggled losing five of six games.
“I kind of knew about it, but we kept losing and I forgot,” Davis said. “That day (of the El Capitan game) we had a team bonding thing where the girls made pizza. The girls made the pepperoni into a 100. I said, ‘Yeah, right. We keep losing.’”
Davis was talked into coaching girls basketball 12 years ago by former Falcons coach Paul Shirlock, who need a junior varsity coach. When Shirlock was still looking for a coach in October of that year, Davis, who also coaches football, agreed to do it.
“In the beginning, I thought it’s girls. I’m just going to try to be nice, but I also wanted to coach like I do in football,” Davis said. “We do a lot of crazy stuff with weight training and running in the summer.”
Davis puts his players through some grueling summer workouts.
“My favorite is the circuit training,” said Atwater junior and third-year varsity player Kelsey Valencia. “We run what he calls the “Happy Trail,’ which is about a mile run. Then he’ll pick a random number like 138. He’ll make us do 138 jumping jacks and then we have to run half the trail. Then we’ll do 138 burpees and then run half the trail. Then maybe a 138 squats and then half the trail. Then 138 jump lunges and then half the trail.
“A lot of time you don’t think you are going to make it out alive. But that helps build team bonding. You see the girls working with you. You see girls who almost die for you. You see girls working for something bigger than themselves. That helps build the bonds.”
Players know if you’re going to play basketball for the Falcons it’s not going to be easy.
“The very first thing we preach is hard work,” Davis said. “We have short girls. We’ve never had much height so we have to be physical and fast. We have got to hustle, nothing comes for free.”
Davis often likes to challenge his players, whether it’s in practice or in other strange ways. Like the time he took the team to eat ice cream before a summer game.
“That was one of his challenges to see if we could play through it,” Valencia said. “He bought every one on the team an ice cream that was about a foot tall.”
“They played well that day,” Davis added. “I told them if they can do this, they can do anything.”
After a rough first three years that saw the Falcons go 24-56, Atwater has gone 81-52 the past five seasons.
“It’s more than just basketball,” Valencia said. “You learn more about the game. You learn life lessons. He builds relationships with his players.”
Davis says he has no plans of stepping away anytime soon. He says as long as he still has fun, he’ll continue to coach.
“I’ve been blessed to have great kids and great parents,” Davis said. “All the support I get at Atwater from the staff and administration is great. Win or lose, we get great support.”
Turlock 43, Atwater 37 at Atwater – Valencia scored 13 and freshman Amoni Claiborne scored 12, but the Falcons were outscored 13 to 6 in the fourth quarter.
Merced 48, Pitman 36 in Turlock – Amaya Irvin scored 16 points as the Bears improved to 18-3 overall and 7-1 in the CCC. Sierra Smith chipped in with 11 points for Merced.
Golden Valley 53, El Capitan 33 in Merced – Grace Mello scored 19 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Delia Moore had a nice all-around game with 10 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists sand 8 steals as Golden Valley pulled into a third place tie with Atwater in the CCC at 5-4.
Livingston 59, Pacheco 29 in Los Banos – Annie Winton poured in 27 points and Alizabeth Huerta scored 18 as the Wolves picked up a road victory.
Los Banos 69, Central Valley 27 at Ceres – Erika Gutierrez finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Tigers past the Bulldogs. Amelia Smith added 14 points and six assists and Emily Lonetree scored 12 points and recorded seven steals for Los Banos (15-9, 6-1 Western Athletic Conference).