The first time Woodrow Wilson High School’s basketball coach, Patrick Washington, laid eyes on Woodrow senior Shakshi Davis, he was a tall, lanky eighth-grader shooting hoops by himself on a neighborhood court.
“I was leaving school one day and something told me that instead of going my normal way, I went the opposite way to get to the highway,” Washington says.
“I drove by the park across the street where the hardtop is, and I saw this kid about 5’11” out there with an old tattered basketball. It was one of those rubber basketballs with little spots missing on it where the rubber had been torn. He was out there shooting.”
Washington stopped to watch him. After Davis knocked down a couple of baskets, Washington got out his car to introduce himself and ask him where he went to school. He learned Davis went to J.L. Long Middle School and, although he loved basketball, he had never played on a team. No one had ever asked him to play on a team and he didn’t have money for shoes or equipment, he said.
“I said, ‘OK, I tell you what, I like your shot. I don’t know that you’ll ever be able to be a superstar basketball player, but you have a good shot,’” Washington recalls.
Washington told Davis he had some old basketballs in the back of his car and offered him one. Washington then looked down at Davis’ feet and noticed his shoes were held together with duct tape.
“Immediately it just gripped my heart, and I felt compelled to do something,” Washington says. “Whether he ever decided to play basketball for me or not, I don’t want to see any kid like that.”
Davis happened to wear the same size shoe as Washington, so the coach gave him a pair.
“I told him, ‘Just use these and if you ever make it to Woodrow Wilson, you’re going to play basketball for me. You just keep shooting your jumpers,’” Washington says.
What Davis didn’t realize at the time was how much his run-in with Washington would change his life.
Washington has earned a reputation for getting his players into college, usually on basketball scholarships. In the 17 years he has been a coach at Woodrow, only a handful of his players skipped college.
What Washington didn’t realize at the time was the real reason why Davis hadn’t ever tried out for a basketball team: Davis was afraid of getting to know people — or rather, of people getting to know him.
Davis is Hindu. His family is a part of the Hare Krishna community in East Dallas and is heavily involved at Kalachandji’s, the Hare Krishna temple that moonlights as a vegetarian Indian buffet. He was afraid the other students would spurn him if they found out.
“My family is weird because I have an Indian religion, I live in America, but my dad’s side of the family is African, so my middle name is African,” he says. “Because of my religion I’m vegetarian, so that’s kind of weird.”
He went to TKG Academy in elementary school where he was surrounded by other Hindu kids and families. Public school was a culture shock and some of the other kids bullied him in junior high because of a small ponytail he wore as a part of Hinduism.
He responded by isolating himself.
“At first I really didn’t relate to anyone once I got to public school,” he says. “I was a loner. That’s why I liked to shoot a lot.”
He spent hours shooting baskets at the neighborhood court.
“My form wasn’t good or anything, but I would just stay there all day and make shot after shot,” he said. “I’d make at least 1,000 shots per day.”
When Washington approached him, Davis recognized the opportunity. So as soon as he started at Woodrow, Davis joined the basketball team. He still was quiet and reserved. He didn’t bond in the locker room the way many of the other players did. He didn’t eat in the cafeteria, but instead brought a vegetarian lunch to school every day.
“When I first met him, it was like an act of Congress to get him to talk,” Washington points out.
Not only was he serious about basketball, Davis also was bserious about academics. When the coach started talking with him and his family about college, Davis relished the possibility of playing college basketball and he continued to devote himself to practicing for hours every day.
He slowly began to warm up to other students at Woodrow, especially his teammates. He noticed the other students were very open with each other, and by the time he reached varsity, he decided he should open up as well.
“I decided it’s worth it. I’ve been here for long enough. People should just know,” Davis explains.
He braced himself for hostility, but to his surprise the other students were intrigued. They were eager to know more and asked him questions about his family and faith. His religion did give him a reputation, but not in the way he expected.
“I thought being different was a bad thing, but once I started to open up to people I realized it was a good thing,” he says. “I started getting to know more people and people started talking to me more. People knew me because I’m different. It has actually benefited me a lot more than I realized it would.”
Of course, as Washington points out, Davis is hard not to like.
“Because of his demeanor and how he handles himself,” Washington says. “It’s really tough to play for me, but if I get onto him about something that he’s not doing he never ever talks back. He just says, ‘I gotcha. I gotcha,’ and he goes immediately and tries to correct it. He’s a joy to coach. He really is.”
This year Davis’ hard work has paid off. He’s a starter for the Woodrow basketball team after carving out a name for himself by shooting at 42 percent from the three-point line.
But he isn’t stopping there. An attitude like his will take him places, Washington believes — like college. Washington has been talking with colleges about Davis and he says there are at least a couple of small schools interested in having him on their basketball team.
Davis says he’ll be happy wherever Washington finds a place for him. He plans to take Washington’s advice to go where he’s wanted. After all, that worked for him at Woodrow.
“Just knowing somebody actually wants you,” he says. “That was it.”
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