Grafton basketball player remembered for his perseverance
On the court, Grafton boys basketball coach Kevin McKenna remembers Josh Davis-Joiner as a fierce competitor who never backed down from a challenge to defend the opponent's best player.
Off the court, he recalls Davis-Joiner's warm smile and infectious personality and remembers him as someone who wasn't afraid to be his own man.
"When we had to wear a shirt and tie to a game, Josh came out with a pink bow tie and a black sweater," McKenna said. "And he was proud of it."
Those memories, among others, will live on for McKenna and the rest of the Grafton basketball program as it attempts to persevere through a season marred by tragedy.
Davis-Joiner, a 17-year-old senior with no prior health problems, died Monday night after collapsing a few minutes into practice. Despite attempts to resuscitate him from a nurse who was in the building, Davis-Joiner did not regain consciousness.
"This happened in front of both the boys and girls teams," McKenna said. "The thing that's really sad, not only for Josh's family, is these high school players had to watch their friend pass away in front of them. It's been tough."
McKenna, 44 and in his fifth season as Grafton coach, said Davis-Joiner was one of the team's most high-energy players, and he brought a work ethic to each practice that was unparalleled. When Davis-Joiner struggled with grades last season and did not play, he still came to every practice and worked at his grades until he could become a contributor on the team.
"He was a kid that didn't get a lot of the limelight, so to speak, didn't get a lot of headlines, but just did the dirty work and was one of those kids," said McKenna, a middle school social studies teacher at Saint Catherine School in Milwaukee. "He was basically the kid that had to guard the other team's best guard or forward and did it with pride. He did it with a ton of energy and knew that in order to be successful, somebody had to do that, and he was more than willing to be that player."
Davis-Joiner, a 6-foot-2 guard, was averaging 3.3 points per game, and his role was to provide a spark off the bench. His final basket at Grafton came during last Thursday's game against Milwaukee Lutheran, when he stole an inbounds pass at midcourt just before the end of the third quarter and raced in for a slam dunk that electrified the crowd.
"What's funny is you watch him try to throw down a dunk in practice, and it was not going to happen," McKenna said. "He'd sit there after practice and go, 'I'll get it.' Then finally after sheer exhaustion he'd say, "OK, I'll try again tomorrow night,' and he would. That's the kind of perseverance he had.
"I don't know if it was a preparation of things to come, being lifted up that extra step or just in the moment, but he threw down one heck of a dunk. If you're going to leave on a high note, Josh left on a high note."
In order to help students cope with the loss, extra counselors were brought in Tuesday to the school, which has an enrollment of 825. According to Grafton's school website, Davis-Joiner's funeral service will take place at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee. Visitation is from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
McKenna said he spoke with Grafton principal Ken McCormick about whether the team should postpone practices and its first game without Davis-Joiner, which takes place Friday at Port Washington.
"He sat down with me and wanted to know what I thought we should do," McKenna said. "I said, 'I don't know.' He said, 'You need to practice.' I looked at him like you've got to be kidding me. . . . Guidance counselors all talked about this. They said, 'You need to get back into practice. You need to keep things as normal as possible.' That actually helps on the path to recovery."
McKenna said the team had a scheduled day off on Tuesday but that it would practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Grafton will play its game as scheduled on Friday against Port Washington.
"We're going to go out and do the best we can," McKenna said. "It's not going to be easy. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of mental mistakes. But we're going to do the best we can under the circumstances."
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