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Davidson gets Elizabeth Forward on right track

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Elizabeth Forward basketball player Jaquan Davidson. Submitted
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By Keith Barnes
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 12:26 a.m.
 

Gerald Grayson didn't have much time to get the Elizabeth Forward boys basketball team into shape before the season started and, in the first few weeks of the season, it certainly showed.

“We didn't have much time to play together,” Grayson, the team's first-year coach said. “We had no summer league, we had no fall league, and people didn't know each other.”

At the first of the year, Elizabeth Forward was a handbreadth away from seeing its season spiral down and out of control. The Warriors had opened the season 3-6 and finished 2012 on a five-game losing streak, including losses in their first three section games.

“I think the first part of the year, we were just finding out who we were,” Grayson said. “But they were starting to buy into the system, and we're still learning how to play together as a team.”

That's when it finally clicked.

Elizabeth Forward (10-7, 4-4) has since won seven of its last eight — its only loss came Tuesday against West Mifflin — and launched itself into a tie with Steel Valley for third place in Section 4. The Warriors are only three section wins away from qualifying for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs for the first time since 2010 when they were knocked out in a preliminary round game by Mount Pleasant.

They have not won a playoff game since 2005-06 when they went 22-4 and dropped a 61-46 decision to Thomas Jefferson.

Part of the reason for the turnaround has been the leadership of junior forward JaQuan Davidson, who took what he learned from a loss to top-seeded Shaler in the opening round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs last season when he was playing at McKeesport and brought those lessons with him when he transferred to Elizabeth Forward.

“When he played at McKeesport, he wasn't a big-time scorer, but when we had open gym, I saw things in him that — and I told him this — that reminded me of a former player of mine at McKeesport, Swin Cash,” Grayson said. “He's a great passer; he'd rather pass than shoot and because he can play any position, he's made our other players better. He's unselfish, but at the same time, he's a scorer.”

Davidson is the leading scorer in Class AAA, averaging 23.9 points per game, but he has been more than just a go-to player for Elizabeth Forward. This was a squad that came into the year with very little varsity experience and has relied on him almost exclusively at times to carry the team against some of the top teams in the WPIAL, including section rivals Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin.

How quickly the rest of the team progresses down the stretch will certainly go a long way toward determining whether the Warriors can end their seven-year postseason winless drought.

“We have a real tough stretch coming up with Thomas Jefferson (today) and EA and Belle Vernon,” Grayson said. “This is a real hard section, so if we're not on our game, we could end up out of the playoffs.”

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