Donavan Howard elected to bet on himself.
Jermaine Parker, his head coach, is glad he did.
Before the basketball season began, Howard, a sophomore forward at George Washington High School, had to decide if he would try out for the JV or varsity boys basketball team.
“I told him, how we work this system, ‘If you try out for varsity, if you’re 10th grade, you can’t go down to JV,’” Parker said. “I don’t think that it’s fair to the [JV] coaches to not see [him].”
There’s no safety net if a sophomore is cut from the varsity tryouts, so it’s a risk — varsity or nothing.
“It’s real tough because I had the same choice last year,” junior teammate Sha’Kobe Hairston said. “It’s more of a confidence thing. [Howard’s] confidence is high. Everything he thinks he can do, he believes he can do it. He has that set in his mind. He’s a hustle player. He’s a well-rounded player.”
Ultimately, Howard felt he could perform at the varsity level and has proven his worth ever since.
“I felt like my talent and my work ethic would be able to compete with the older kids,” Howard said. “I wanted to stay on JV a little bit to play at my age level, but I felt I could work with the juniors and seniors, as well.”
With a rebounding acumen that belies his skinny, 6-foot-2 frame, Howard quickly has ascended as one of the team’s most reliable players. He wins most battles for offensive rebounds, and he’s strong enough already to muscle the ball back up for second-chance points.
“He tells the guys, ‘You take your shot, you go to the hole, I got your clean up,’” Parker said. “That’s confidence, especially for a sophomore.”
In Howard, Parker sees some similarities with certain players from last year’s state championship team, including Ny’rek Wheeler, Carl Poole, Meco Wiggins and Tamasjai Reaves.
“They’re just hustlers that are in the right places at the right time,” Parker said, “and that’s [Howard].”
Hairston said Howard’s effect extends to the sidelines, as well.
“If some of us come out of the game, mind might be in a different spot, maybe we’re down, but Don will bring us up,” he said. “The way he raises spirits, the way he works on the court, it helps the whole team out.”
In GW’s last three games, Howard scored 10 points against Magna Vista, 15 points against Liberty Christian Academy and nine points against Halifax County — mostly coming from solid positioning around the basket.
“There’s bigger people than me, so it’s just boxing out and moving them out the way,” he said. “I feel like I’m more of a big man than a wing. I used to play the wing, but I feel I can get rebounds and score down here too.”
The Eagles (11-6) won all three games, but Howard did commit a foul as time expired last Wednesday against LCA that gave the Bulldogs a chance to tie the game from the line.
“I was thinking I might have gave the game away because they were a good free-throw-shooting team,” Howard said.
Luckily for him, the shooter missed both attempts, and GW escaped with a 77-75 victory.
Though fouling in that spot is, of course, misguided, Parker saw Howard trying to make a play to defend the shot, lest he allow an uncontested tying bucket. Howard got caught in a bad position, but that doesn’t erase all of his other defensive efforts throughout the season.
“I’m a defensive man, and as long as you’re playing defense for me, I’ve got a heart for you,” Parker said. “Offense is gonna come, but I like a hustler — someone that gives effort, some things I can’t teach that you just find for yourself. That’s what he is.”
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215.