He remembered one thing from the funeral:
“It all hurt real bad and I remember my mom was crying and I reached out and held onto her hand and said, ‘It’s gonna be OK.’ ”
Amari Davis was only 6 that October day in 2007 when they buried his idol, his 14-year-old brother Boo, who already was 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds and was, as his AAU basketball coach said at the time, “a phenomenal talent. He was going to be the next phenom from this area.”
Coach Rocky Rockhold, then a Trotwood-Madison High School assistant, now the Rams head coach, agreed: “He was a program changer once he got to the high school level.”
Today, a decade after Boo’s death, Amari — better than anyone could imagine considering the circumstance — is making good on that little-boy promise.
He has been making things “OK” for himself, his family and his school.
“Boo is living through Amari right now,” said Lamar Davis Sr., the two boys’ dad. “I’m not going to say Amari is destined to be as great of a player as his brother had the potential to be, but he’s doing real good. And he’s keeping all of us grounded, all of us happy.”
Amari and the rest of his Trotwood basketball team have made a lot of people happy this season.
The high-scoring Rams — the Miami Valley’s lone representative at the state basketball tournament being played at the Schottenstein Center today through Saturday — are averaging 91 points a game, have a 26-2 record and, this afternoon at 2, face Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (23-5) in a Division II semifinal.
Although just a sophomore, Amari, who is 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds, is one of the team leaders. He’s averaging 15.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.2 blocked shots. His 69.1-percent field-goal accuracy led the Greater Western Ohio Conference (GWOC) this season.
“He’s a super athlete who’s got a lot of tools,” Rockhold said. “But the thing I really appreciate is that I always know what I’m going to get from him. I never have to show up at a practice or a game and wonder what Amari is going to bring today. He provides a sense of steadiness. I’ve never seen him just rattled, but for that matter I’ve never seen him super high either. He’s just steady.”
So he is making things OK and in the process he’s reminding people of his older brother.
“Yeah,” Amari said with a smile. “Some of my teammates even call me Lil Boo.”
Lamar Allan Davis Jr., known as Boo since he was a toddler, didn’t start playing basketball until the fifth grade when an AAU coach came by the house because he had heard about “the big kid” and coaxed him to join his team.
In a few years Boo was a standout. Playing for the Dayton Basketball Club’s Kingdom Elite AAU team, which compiled a 60-12 record in the spring and summer of 2007, he averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots a game.
Ohio State and Cleveland State sent him recruiting letters before he got to high school.
“I remember I had a little rim in my room and we used to play one-on-one,” Amari recalled after Tuesday evening’s spirited practice in the auxiliary gym at school. “Back then Boo would always block my shot.
“When he played AAU, I was the ball boy for the team. I’d be on the sidelines trying to do every drill they did.”
Gerie Davis, the boys’ mother, said: “When Boo had practice or games, my husband would travel everywhere to be there and he always took Amari with him.”
On Oct. 6, 2007, a Saturday morning six weeks before he’d start his high school career at Trotwood, Boo went to an open gym at Wayne High. He played one game and was on the sidelines afterward when he suddenly collapsed and couldn’t catch his breath.
Paramedics were called, but he did not respond. He was taken to Dayton Children’s Hospital and was pronounced dead a few minutes after 11 a.m.
The Montgomery County Coroner’s office attributed the death to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which is more commonly known as an enlarged heart. According to the American Heart Association, hearts with HCM thicken and inhibit or obstruct blood flow, a problem often exacerbated during exercise.
The Dayton Flyers’ 6-foot-11 Steve McElvene died suddenly because of an enlarged heart last May. Jason Collier, the Springfield Catholic Central star, Mr. Ohio Basketball and 7-foot center for the Atlanta Hawks, died of the same thing in 2005. Before that, NBA All-Star Reggie Lewis and college standout Hank Gathers were similar victims on a list that goes on and on.
“It’s a matter of being aware,” Gerie said. “If you don’t know anything about it, you won’t know to look for it. I did some research after Boo passed and found out there are signs and then you realize it’s something more than just the normal being tired.
“When Boo played ball and got tired, he’d sit on the bench and rock back and forth sucking air. We took him to the doctor and she said he might have exercise-related asthma. She gave him an inhaler and told him to see if that worked. If it did, he’d keep using it and if it didn’t, she said they’d get him tested further.
“My son, being a kid and immature, I think he told us what we would want to hear. He’d say ‘I’m good,’ and there were times he didn’t take his inhaler, times he didn’t take a puff.
“But I don’t think he was good. The more I studied it, the more I saw it. If you do a lot of heavy breathing, it’s different than being tired. You feel it in your chest. The airways are constricted and you are gasping for air.
“But Boo just didn’t want to stop playing ball.”
‘Living through Amari’
Some 800 people showed up at the viewing, several wearing “R.I.P. Boo” t-shirts, at the Thomas Funeral Home on Salem Avenue. A few hundred more packed the funeral service at Phillips Temple CME Church on Shiloh Springs and a crowd gathered at Greencastle Cemetery for Boo’s burial.
“I kinda carried the family right after it happened,” Gerie said. “Boo’s death really dampened my husband’s spirit and he‘d break down in tears afterward.”
She said she tried to buoy him — just as he would do for her later — and their two remaining children, Amari and daughter TaRea, and also students from the school who sought her out.
“They used to say, ‘You’re so strong. How do you do it?’ ” she said quietly. “I was hurting as bad as anyone, but I didn’t cry ‘til I got behind closed doors. Really, I didn’t grieve my son until after we buried him.”
Lamar said the Trotwood-Madison team immediately embraced young Amari:
“They pretty much took him on like he was their little brother. Whatever they did, they included him. He was their ball boy. He rode the bus with them to games and they had a spot for him on the bench.”
A few years later Rockhold, then a Rams’ assistant coach, got to know Amari:
“He was in the fourth grade and our ball boy then. We’d hang around together sometimes and we’d sit together on the bus and talk. That’s made our relationship very comfortable.”
Even so, when Amari first stated playing basketball in earnest, he was uneasy, Lamar said:
“He was kind of nervous because he was thinking he’d die playing ball, too. We had to talk to him and let him know just because Boo passed away didn’t mean he would too. But now we do take Amari for regular check-ups of his heart to be safe.”
Amari said he put Boo’s AAU and Trotwood jerseys up on the wall of his bedroom to remember his brother.
But the real remembrance is coming on the court, Rockhold said:
“We’ve talked several times about his brother and the potential legacy Boo could have left. Now, Amari didn’t say this — this is me talking — but I think he gets that. He understands he has an opportunity now to leave a legacy in a very positive way.
“It starts with: ‘I’m a good kid. I’m a very good student and oh, by the way, I’m a pretty darn good basketball player, too!’”
So, too, was Boo.
And like Lamar said:
“Boo is living through Amari right now.”