Best friends Davis, Pagliocca find joy in competing against each other on basketball court

What happens when two basketball junkies become fathers at the same time?

Well, they start a team, of course.

Youth teams often fizzle out as kids' interests change. In this case, it was a spectacular success.

Warren freshman Jaxson Davis and Stevenson sophomore Rocco Pagliocca don't even remember when they first met, because they were so young at the time. Their dads were already good friends, with jobs centered around the old Joy of the Game building in Deerfield.

“The only part I remember was when we were really little, Rocco was just really shy,” Davis said. “I was a point guard, he was a shooter, so I was always feeding him for 3s. The connection just happened from there.”

Both players are off to great starts in high school, playing varsity as freshmen. Davis was already named MVP of the Proviso West Holiday tournament and has offers from Illinois, Arizona State, EIU, WIU, with more to come, no doubt.

When Warren and Stevenson squared off on Jan. 23, Davis poured in 31 points, but Pagliocca's Patriots pulled out an overtime victory, avenging a loss in Gurnee back in December.

“It was definitely weird,” Pagliocca said. “We haven't been on the same team for about two years, but it still feels weird we're not playing together and not on the same team. It's definitely fun. We always laugh about it and talk to each other during the games.”

Davis said the two friends don't get a chance to hang out together very much, but they still talk every day and might play video games remotely. Father Brian Davis, now an assistant coach at Warren, has watched the friendship develop every step of the way.

“They're like peas in a pod,” Brian Davis said. “They're the same kid. One just goes to Stevenson and one goes to Warren. We were trying to figure out how to get them to play high school ball together.”

Alas, they've turned into very friendly rivals.

The Joy begins

Jaxson Davis, left, and Rocco Pagliocca, right, now play at different high schools, but they’ve been close friends for many years. Courtesy of the Pagliocca family

Brian Davis played football at Illinois, mostly for coach Lou Tepper in the early 1990s. He started as a walk-on, but earned playing time on special teams. Since then, he's been all about basketball.

Davis was basically a founding member of the Rising Stars/Joy of the Game company with Mike Weinstein, a former high school teammate at Highland Park. Davis insists his greatest claim to fame was coaching both of Michael Jordan's sons, Jeffrey and Marcus, in AAU.

Jeff Pagliocca didn't play high school basketball at Stevenson, but became interested in the sport and started a successful skills training business. He needed a place to conduct his workouts and the Joy of the Game building was an ideal spot.

“I was training the NBA guys and I was booking the time through Brian. That's how we initially built our friendship,” said Pagliocca, who became general manager of the WNBA's Chicago Sky last year.

“Our kids weren't even alive yet, I don't think. That was the beginning of the friendship for sure. We definitely hit it off.”

Shortly after both kids could walk, they joined basketball leagues. Joy of the Game changed ownership and the building, which bordered the Edens spur, was eventually demolished. That's when Davis started his own team, called ICE for Illinois Central Elite.

“It was a good five years straight, literally no breaks,” Jeff Pagliocca said. “We were playing every weekend, building the team together with those two and we turned into one of the best teams in the country by fifth grade,

“The kids were starting to spend every second together, they were like 6, 7, 8, 9 years old. After that, we did everything together. Brian and I had four or five conversations a day, prepping for these big events or trying to build the roster out or putting different sets in.”

Best of rivals

The ICE squad competed in several national tournaments. Both kids mentioned a trip to Virginia Beach as a highlight. ICE won a big-time event in Kansas City one year.

Some area players who were regulars on that team were Rolling Meadows' Ian Miletic, who was recently offered by Illinois; Hersey's Jackson Hupp, and Makai Kvamme from DePaul Prep. Those players are now juniors, since the other two played up when they were younger. Davis was head coach and asked Pagliocca to be an assistant.

“Brian was an incredible coach,” Pagliocca said. “We had high-IQ practices all the time. He was just a really advanced basketball mind to be working with kids. He was hard on Rocco and Jaxson, and it was exactly what they wanted and needed. He was the ticket to all of our success.”

Will Jaxson and Rocco ever team up again? Hard to say, since they've already gone their separate ways in AAU.

“I called it 'Fire and Ice,'” Brian Davis said. “Those two were so hard to defend when they were on the floor together. They always looked out for each other. When they were shooting the ball well, it was over.”

They may have to settle for two more years of being the best of rivals. Warren sophomore Braylon Walker is another former ICE player and spent most of the last meeting guarding Rocco Pagliocca.

“It's torture for me, having them play against each other,” Jeff Pagliocca said. “These kids were all sleeping at my house every night. It's just crazy how far we've all come together.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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