Had Julio Davila attended Miami High like he was supposed to, he might not have lived past his 25th birthday.
“I might have been caught up in that (cocaine ring),” said the 61-year-old Davila, referring to the outlaw crew led by Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta, two men he knew during their middle-school days. “We used to play basketball together (on the outdoor courts at Citrus Grove Junior High).”
Falcon and Magluta went on to Miami High and were ultimately jailed after federal prosecutors say the notorious Cocaine Cowboys smuggled more than 75 tons of coke into the U.S., pocketing more than $2 billion.
Davila instead went out of his district and attended Miami Jackson High, becoming a key part of maybe the best and most controversial boys’ basketball team in Florida history.
In fact, when the Jackson Generals team jogged onto the court during their undefeated 1973-74 season, it looked like a college team due to their size and skill.
Mychal Thompson, who went by Michael at the time, was listed at 6-foot-7. His cousin, Charles Thompson, was also 6-7. Aaron Bryant was 6-6, and Davila was 6-4. And those heights may have been modest since the Thompsons went on to be listed at 6-10 in college, Davila grew to 6-6 and Bryant to 6-7.
Jackson’s imposing size was made even more jarring because this was during an era when most high school teams in Miami would be fortunate if they had one player who measured 6-2 or 6-3.
Four players on that Jackson team – all natives of the Bahamas – went on to be drafted by the NBA. In fact, Mychal Thompson was the first pick in the 1978 NBA Draft, and Charles Thompson and the two star guards, Cecil Rose and Osborne Lockhart, were also selected.
Two other players among Jackson’s top six, Davila and Bryant, went on to play major college basketball. And the Generals, given all that talent, went 33-0 that season, winning a state title and beating many teams by at least 30 points.
How intimidating were the Generals?
“Once we started our (pre-game) layup drills, we felt like we were already winning by 20,” Davila said. “We would shoot our layups above the rim (in an era in which dunks weren’t allowed).”
Davila said the real battles were not the games.
“Our best competition every day was in practice,” he said, “against each other.”
Unfortunately for the Generals, that team has been forever tainted by scandal.
After winning the state title, the Florida High School Activities Association — following up on a stellar investigative report by sports writer Bill Brubaker of the old Miami News — ruled the four Bahamian players ineligible.
Brubaker traveled to the Bahamas and found that all four of those players were ineligible to play in Miami and that Rose, at 20, was over-age as a Jackson senior, had already graduated from high school two years earlier and was working as a constable on the island when he decided to come to the U.S.
According to Brubaker’s reporting, Rose was born Oct. 27, 1953. But, Brubaker wrote, Rose produced a Bahamian passport with a fake birthday — Oct. 27, 1955 — as proof of age. FHSAA rules at that time dictated a player would be ineligible if he/she turned 19 by Sept. 1 of a school year.
Because of those issues, next to Jackson’s name in the FHSAA record book are two black marks and a note that reads: “Title won with four ineligible players.”
In the 95-year history of the state boys’ basketball state finals, only one other team has a black mark next to its name. The 1998 Miami High team has a notation that reads: “Tournament participation vacated.” (Ironically, one of Davila’s sons, Jemel, played on that ’98 Miami High team that featured future NBA players Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem.)
The FHSAA, which did its own investigation on Jackson and confirmed Brubaker’s story, did not require the Generals forfeit any games because the violations were not discovered during the year in which they were occurred.
Jackson officials were, however, asked to return to the championship trophy in order to set an example of fair play, but the Generals refused, saying they had certified the eligibility of the four Bahamians in good faith.
STILL GOING STRONG
Once the four Bahamian players headed to college in fall 1974, the Generals program started to fade. The Generals never won another state title. In fact, they haven’t been back to the state tournament since 1984.
But Davila, who played college basketball at Western Kentucky and at New Orleans, has done anything but fade away.
Davila's first wife, Gina, the mother of his two sons, died 11 years ago of pancreatic cancer. He married Maria six years ago, and now has two stepdaughters and a granddaughter.
Even though he’s decades older, he’s still playing competitive basketball. In fact, the Masters Basketball Association named Davila the 2017 Sportsman of the Year after he led the U.S. to a World Championship in Italy, winning the 60-plus age group.
Davila also led the U.S. to an age-group World Championship in 2015, in Orlando, and to a Pan American title in Costa Rica in 2016.
USA coach Roger Larson said the 252-pound Davila is tough to stop.
“He’s a load,” Larson said of Davila, who weighed 170 in high school. “He can score in the low post, and if you leave him alone, he can hit a three-pointer.”
Davila started playing Masters age-group basketball 18 years ago and has since traveled to compete in countries such as Australia, Ireland and England.
“I’ve been blessed that I’m still able to play at this stage of my life,” said Davila, whose next major international tournament will be in Japan next April.
“My knees hurt all the time. My doctor says, ‘One of these days, you’re going to have to stop playing.’ … But I can’t stop.”
LOVE FOR THE GAME
Davila, who has worked in the construction-supply business since 1980, was born in Cuba and came to Miami when he was 7.
Davila was only 5-foot-8 in the sixth grade before his growth spurt happened. And although he lived in the Miami High district, Davila decided to attend Jackson on what was known as a Majority-to-Minority transfer, a rule created to foster diversity.
Davila said that was among the best decisions he has ever made, but it enraged Miami High’s rabid fans. The first time Miami High played Jackson with Davila on the Generals roster, it was a chaotic scene.
“The first thing I heard when I got on the floor was boos,” Davila said. “And every time I touched the ball, I heard more boos.”
Despite that reaction, Davila remembers scoring 26 points in a big Jackson win. After the game, Davila said numerous Miami High players told him he had made a wise move.
Davila said he became “a well-versed human being” at Jackson.
“Here I was, a white Cuban kid at a predominantly black school, and I had the best time of my life at Jackson,” Davila said. “I made friendships that have lasted forever, and I learned about a different culture.”
When Davila was a sophomore – and the four Bahamians were juniors – Jackson was eliminated from the playoffs in the district semifinals.
Rose was the leader of the team and the oldest and most experienced player. Lockhart said he had primarily been a soccer player in his youth. Charles was a volleyball player, and Mychal had grown up as a swimmer and tennis player.
But that summer, the Jackson kids worked on basketball exclusively, and they bonded.
“We played 24 hours a day, seven times a week it seemed like,” Davila said. “We all got better playing.”
Davila said the team was exceptionally well-coached by Jake Caldwell. “He was ahead of his time,” he said.
As the wins piled up, so did the fans. “I don’t remember playing in any gym that year in which it wasn’t sold out and standing-room only,” Davila said.
In the playoffs, Jackson beat Miami Killian 76-65 and North Miami Beach 98-65 to make it to state. In the state semifinals, Jackson embarrassed Tampa Jefferson 74-34, and the Generals defeated Winter Park 90-78 to win the championship.
Then came the bad news for Jackson.
Davila was in college in October 1975 when he heard the news that Jackson’s title had been tainted.
“It offended me,” Davila said. “I resented the fact that (the investigation) took place after we had won.”
Of course, it wasn’t until that fall, a year after they won state, that Brubaker traveled to the Bahamas, dug up Rose’s birth certificate and found out that none of the four players should have been declared eligible to play a single game in Miami.
In 1978, Brubaker traveled to New York City to cover the NBA draft in which Mychal Thompson was selected No. 1 overall. Brubaker said Thompson invited him to ride in his rented limousine.
“Mychal and members of his family were very gracious to me,” Brubaker said. “I also interviewed Mychal in Nassau once, and he was delightful.
“Neither Mychal nor any members of that team ever disputed any of the facts of my story.”