Winston Davis, a fixture in Hillsborough County high school basketball for 35 years and coach of Blake's 2011 boys final four team, passed away earlier today after a two-year battle with brain cancer.
Mr. Davis, who retired from teaching in June, turned 60 last week. He had spent the last month or so in a Temple Terrace hospice facility, great-nephew Charles Smith said.
The right-side brain tumor that doctors spent seven hours trying to remove almost two years ago "never really went away," said Smith, who assumed most of the Yellow Jackets' day-to-day coaching chores in Mr. Davis' final two seasons.
"He's one of the longtime stalwarts in the county," said veteran Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon, who coached Mr. Davis' son -- also named Winston -- for four seasons. "Not only was he a great player in his day, but he stayed in the community he was brought up in and made a difference in kids' lives."
A married father of two and stepdad of one, Mr. Davis was preparing for a potential state title run with the Jackets in the late summer of 2010 when he began dropping things around the house and struggled to maintain his balance. On Nov. 4, 2010, he underwent the lengthy surgery at Tampa General Hospital.
Twenty-five days later, he was on the bench for the Jackets' season opener against East Bay. He missed only two games that season (a pair of holiday contests in Tallahassee) despite daily after-school radiation treatments at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Inspired by its coach, Blake (28-3) advanced to the Class 4A state tournament in Lakeland.
The Times chronicled Mr. Davis' resilient title quest with a story/video feature that can be seen here. Weeks after the season ended, the Tampa Bay Boys Basketball Coaches Association presented him the Doug Walker Coach of the Year Award and named him one of four recipients of the annual Heart of a Champion honor.
"My two years playing for him at Blake High School, it was more than basketball," said Brandon Channer, who recorded a double double in Blake's 68-52 state tournament loss to Leesburg. "He just taught me so much, just more than basketball; how to be a person and carry yourself and not get caught up in the limelight."
A former standout player at Blake, Mr. Davis led Hillsborough County in scoring in the 1969-70 season before the school was closed when segregation ended. He transferred to Plant for his senior year and helped guide the Panthers to the Class 2A playoffs in '71.
Until the symptoms of his illness overtook him, he was still challenging Jackets players to pre-practice shooting contests and winning with what Smith called a "simple stroke."
"He's been like a father figure to me," Smith said.
"The things he stood for as far as kids, doing things the right way, things not so popular or old-school when everybody else is new-school and into technology -- he stuck to what he believed in. Personally that's what will impact me for the rest of my life."