It was never going to be easy for Kimball to win its fourth state basketball title in five years. The heart of last year's team, 6-foot-7-inch small forward D'Angelo Allen, was gone for University of Missouri. Gone, too, was longtime Kimball Coach Royce "Snoop" Johnson, who was fired in the wake of last spring's Dallas ISD athletics recruiting scandal, though not for recruiting but for tweeting something dumb.
It seemed, though, that longtime Kimball assistant Nick Smith was primed to pick up where Johnson had left off. Smith, after all, had studied under Johnson for years. He knew the kids, knew the system and his roster was stacked. Standout guard Jawun Evans, one of the area's top prospects, was returning for his senior season, and he was to be joined in the starting lineup by four other Division 1 recruits, a remarkable collection of talent on a public high school hoops team.
Then came Friday, when small forward Christian Davis, an Arkansas State commit, and shooting guard Kristopher Martin, who will play next year for Oral Roberts University, marched with their families into the bowels of DISD's out-of-the-way Shook Building for a hearing before the District 13-5A Executive Committee. The DEC's task: to determine whether the pair had transferred to Kimball for athletic purposes, which is prohibited by UIL rules.
Davis and Martin are the latest in a remarkably long list of D-1 basketball prospects who, thanks to personal or family circumstances curiously timed to coincide with the high school athletic calendar, have wound up into the Kimball attendance zone over the years. Last season, Davis played for L.D. Bell in Hurst. Martin most recently spent a year at a private school in California but had attended Frisco Centennial before that.
Davis' case was called first. Davis, dressed neatly in a dark sweater with a red polo shirt poking over the collar, folded his 6-foot-6-inch frame into one of the hard plastic chairs facing a horseshoe of sober-looking DISD coaches and administrators. His mother, clad in black nurse's scrubs, took the seat beside him. Directly in front of them, polite but serious, sat athletic director Gil Garza.
Davis and his mom begin to tell their story. For years, the family had been living with the mom's sister in Hurst, but the sister was evicted last spring. Scrambling to find a place to live, they settled in southeast Arlington, and Davis finished the remainder of his junior year at Mansfield Summit.
He would have been there for his senior year as well had it not been for a pair of incidents that convinced mom that their new neighborhood wasn't safe. On August 2, her younger son "was held at gunpoint." Ten days later, the front door of their town home was kicked in. With less than two weeks to go before the start of the school year, mom was frantic to find a place to stay. The Woods apartment complex on Westmoreland Road, a half-hour walk from Kimball and blocks from Davis' aunts and grandfather, was the first place she found that she could afford and had space available.
Fifteen pairs of eyes bore into mother and son as they talk, trying to divine whether this is the truth or whether it's dressed up with convenient fictions. There are questions. Can they document the crime they experienced in Arlington? And that box mom checked on the state-mandated Previous Athletic Participation Form, the one that said Davis hadn't played with Kimball players in a non-school league? That wasn't entirely true, was it? Davis had played over the summer for Dallas Showtyme, a longtime hothouse of Kimball talent coached by Kimball ally Erven "Big E" Davis. And as to the apartment complex they miraculously found, they're not the only Kimball basketball players who live there, are they? Evans, the returning senior, and Martin, the Frisco-to-California-to-Kimball shooting guard, both lived there as well.
Davis endures this with composure that belies his youth. When he responds, his voice is clear and strong. He wasn't recruited to Kimball by anyone, not Coach Smith, not his teammates, not Erven Davis. Mom's composure only began to waver when forced to directly confront the suggestion that she'd uproot her family so that her son could play on a better high school sports team. "This had nothing to do with basketball," she said, pulling a tissue from a box that had been placed on the table, though whether this was because of flu season or because this process routinely reduces people to tears wasn't immediately clear.
The interrogation lasted nearly an hour. When it was done, the committee had unearthed two pieces of highly circumstantial evidence -- his play for Dallas Showtyme and the apartment complex that's so popular with Kimball basketball stars -- to suggest he'd somehow been recruited to play for Kimball, but there was no hard evidence. A jury would've acquitted Davis, but the DEC standards of evidence aren't nearly so strict.
"Vote your conscience," Garza, DISD's athletic director, admonished committee members in what has become his mantra for adjudicating athletic eligibility.
Davis, by this point, had been allowed to retreat from the horseshoe and had returned to his chair in the corner next to Martin. He steeled himself for the decision, head bowed, his clasped hands pressed to the bridge of his nose. The windowless room swam in the sterile institutional glow of the halogen lights pulsing above. Martin quietly hooked his arm through his teammate's.
Garza, after reminding them again to vote their consciences, called for a show of hands. Who feels that Christian Davis should be eligible to play basketball at Kimball High School this season?
Davis lifts his head. He sees only one hand, belonging to the representative from Spruce High School. When Garza calls for a show of opposition, there are five.
As Davis and his mother get up to leave, Garza urges them not to take the decision personally. He reminds them as well that they will have the opportunity to appeal the DEC's decision to the UIL's State Executive Committee in Austin, so long as they don't mind enduring a similarly agonizing recitation of their family history.
After this, Martin's hearing is almost a relief, if only because there were two parents and no one being held at gunpoint. He'd moved into The Woods apartment because his step-mom, a California native, had found a job and found a good deal there. The main strike against him was an inconsistency in the story of how he came to play for Dallas Showtyme last summer. During his testimony, he said he'd joined the team after learning about it through classmates after enrolling at Kimball last spring. If that was the case, Adamson football coach Josh Ragsdale wondered, then how was it that on May 1, the day before records show he enrolled at Kimball, he tweeted this:
Dallas Showtyme baby let's get it
— Kristopher T. Martin (@MOAM_KM25) May 1, 2014
Martin fumbled for an explanation while several coaches pulled out their cell phones for verification for the offending tweet. Smith, the first to locate it, offered the rather unconvincing defense that the tweet was probably a generic expression of fandom (e.g. Go Mavs!) rather than a statement that Martin was joining the team. Others nodded, as if this were a realistic possibility, but when Garza called for a vote, the result was the same as for Davis except that Sameull joined Spruce in voted for approval. After the hearing, Martin tweeted this:
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— Kristopher T. Martin (@MOAM_KM25) November 21, 2014
The DEC's decision to deny athletic eligibility to Davis and Martin marks a sharp break with the past. Recall this the same committee that for years has rubber-stamped suspicious-seeming transfers, like that of Kimball star Keith Frazier from a couple of years ago. It also, perhaps, signals a broader culture shift in DISD athletics in Garza's young tenure. He seems genuinely committed to enforcing the UIL's rule against athletic transfers, which in the past has been applied loosely or not at all. Now only if there were a way to do so without publicly dissecting the lives of teenagers and their families during agonizing interrogations.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.