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Davis High boys’ basketball team in a huddle during their district game against West Valley High, two minutes away from sealing a win against the rival without captain Jose Reyes. (Photo by Brenda Hartline-Juarez)

Jose Reyes, sophomore captain for the 2018-19 Davis High School boys basketball team, says the sport has had a huge impact on the players.

“We’re brothers now. We do everything together.”

Davis has won the league championship seven times in the last 10 years, five of those also involving the district title, three of those with trophies at the state tournament, including one 4A crown.

As the 2018-19 Pirates’ recently concluded campaign began, one question remained: Who would rise up to take the challenge? Sophomore Jose Reyes was going to be the only returning starter from the 2017-18 team, as two players graduated and two current seniors chose not to continue with the program this year. Freshman Dhantaye Bennett-Joe and sophomores Xavier Guerrero and Braxton Brown were deemed some of the new blood in the future of Pirate basketball.

Unfortunately, not many people in general were as accepting of the current group or thought these young players were worthy enough to don the orange and black varsity uniforms.

“We heard it from parents, school, coaches, players and friends. It felt like everyone,” Brown admitted.

Guerrero agreed: “They said we weren’t going to make it far, and that we’d take last in the district.”

These four boys had actually began their basketball journey together as 6- and 7-year-old kids, with Davis legend Shag Williams as their first coach, showing them the ropes. It was then that the dreams to play together at Davis began.

“We never really played basketball apart. We were always on the same team,” Reyes said. “(This season) was easy to us, just because we had that chemistry. It was just like playing when we were younger.”

More than half of the Pirates’ seven regular season wins this winter came in the two weeks prior to the playoffs. The losses came with scores that were within 10 points. By the end of the season, the recorded wins and losses weren’t necessarily significant because the majority of the other teams in the conference had failed to find their footing. It was anyone’s District 9 title, and it was clear Davis had found its groove as the playoffs began.

However, team captain Reyes had earlier committed to attend a National Association for Music Education Conference in Portland with Davis’ acclaimed wind ensemble, in which he plays baritone saxophone. Reyes made this decision at the end of the summer, after three long months of deciding to either attend that and miss a potential game, or attend the game but be placed this school year in a lower ensemble in the band program. He’s passionate about both programs.

When others learned about Reyes’ absence for the district semifinal against West Valley, the response was far from supportive in some cases.

“I had people coming up to me and telling me that could be my worst decision, that college coaches would see it as a red flag,” Reyes said.

On Feb. 15, he traveled with the band to Portland while his teammates stayed in Yakima to play a crucial game at West Valley. Ultimately that night, Davis juniors Marcus Cook and Earl Lee III, supported by strong performances from Bennett-Joe and Guerrero, pushed Davis together for a 65-51 victory.

“That win was so relieving for us,” Brown said. “It was the best thing we thought could have happened without Jose.”

“We were on our way back from Portland and I was crying on the bus while my mom was Facetiming me in the final minutes of the game,” Reyes said.

Davis traveled the next day, Feb. 16, to Wenatchee for the district championships. With Reyes back, the overall morale of the team was boosted and they went into the game fully confident and ready to battle for the spot no one thought they would vie for.

That night, everything came down to the final seconds. Wenatchee led 52-51 and Guerrero was fouled going up for a shot, bringing him to the line to shoot two. He recalled: “I was so in the moment, really nervous during my first shot. The ground was shaking and I was shaking.”

He missed both shots, the last of which came after one of the Wenatchee players made a comment that some of the Pirate players were deserving of a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Wenatchee Panthers were deemed district champions as the buzzer went off, and Guerrero fell in an emotional heap under the hoop.

Said Cook: “I was sad, I was about to start crying. I had to go and pick up my brother (Guerrero), though.”

But Reyes had a different outlook on that loss: “At first, I saw everybody crying, and I was looking around like, man, we weren’t even supposed to play in this game. Everyone predicted we would come in last place, behind Ike, behind Sunnyside. No one dreamed we would be in that position. I was just thinking (about) what are we going to do now to improve?”

The perspective on such a heartbreaking loss is an example of the leadership Davis will have for the next two years. Not long after the night of that last game, the team members found themselves back in the weight room, already preparing for next season.

Reyes affirmed his faith in the teammates — his “brothers” — this way: “We know now how to work as a team. We have the same guys showing up next year and we’ll come back, I have no doubt we’ll make it to state.”

They are, truly, a prime showcase of one of our favorite things about sports: the ability to forge relationships that will never be broken.

Alexis Weber is a senior at Davis High School.