One On One: Talent, Hard Work & Heart Personified (VIDEO)

Just as the Cape’s first warblers crack the ebbing night’s silence and the sun barely begins to peak its head over the horizon, sounds virtually unheard by anyone but its maker reverberate in a dimly lit gymnasium each day.

A_Joe Downes Bob Catalini 3

Sandwich High School recent graduate Joey Downes does not let a minute of the day go by without continuously attempting to perfect his basketball skills.
Sean Walsh/ Sports

It is the heavy, repetitive thud of leather upon finished albeit aged maple. It is the brief whisper of a nylon twine net as a 9.51-inch, 8.5-lb ball falls through it over and over again. It is the jarring squeak of rubber-soled sneakers stopping and accelerating across the dull-glazed parquet.

These are the sounds of an 18-year-old who has already received his high school diploma. These are the sounds of a teenager on the cusp of manhood who has already been to the prom, taken every test imaginable and spent all hours of the night studying.

These are the sounds of the hardest-working high school basketball superstar on Cape Cod. These are the sounds of one of the most talented student-athletes to ever attend Sandwich High School – or any Cape Cod high school — ever. These are the sounds of someone who truly grasps what it takes to reach the next level.

These are the sounds of someone on a mission.

There are no parents waiting in the wings, videocams in hand. Gone are the thousands of screaming fans who poured into local gymnasiums this past winter just to catch a glimpse of what greatness looks like. Gone are the hallway high-fives or the furtive glances from teenage girls seated in desks nearby his. Gone are the homework assignments and schedules and team meetings and the camaraderie of the greatest high school boys’ basketball team in Sandwich High School history.

Conscious of all these details, Joey Downes works twice as hard as he’s ever worked. He has to. He is driven by a need to succeed. He is compelled by a personal quest to be noticed by some coach, in some place, at some college where his talents could be put to use.

But as the vast majority of his former peers bus tables or mow putting greens or sleep off nights of aimless adolescent revelry, Downes doesn’t sit by the phone waiting for some quixotic phone call that will likely not come. He doesn’t sit staring at the trophies and the plaques or re-play his glory days in his mind’s eye, satisfied that he has already left enough of a mark on the world around him.

Joey Downes - Sandwich High School's all-time leading scorer with 1,534 career points. Sean Walsh/ Sports

Joey Downes – Sandwich High School’s all-time leading scorer with 1,534 career points.
Sean Walsh/ Sports

He wakes up in the dark and slips his size 11 Nike high-tops on each day and carries his Marine Corps-fit, five-foot-eleven-inch, 155-pound frame into the Oak Ridge elementary school gymnasium in East Sandwich. On a bulletin board in the hallway leading to the vacant, cinderblock-walled gym are dozens of newspaper clippings of feats achieved and games won by any number of former Oak Ridge students who have gone on to achieve great things. The vast majority of the clippings are of Joey Downes, all pinned beneath the title “Oak Ride Wall of Fame.”

 He is the fourth child of Pat and Maureen Downes’ six children and a family fully immersed in the world of basketball, but in this gym, when most folks are just rolling out of bed, Joey Downes is drenched in sweat, his piston-like legs matching his heart-rate with every stop and drive and shot taken. He will take anywhere from 700 to 1,000 shots before he is through and will have run through as many drills as his latest basketball mentor – former Old Rochester Regional High School athletic director Bob Catalini — can think of. Every shot is charted. Every drill analyzed. Every drop of sweat accounted for as the humidity seeps into the pores of his skin and pours out of his gifted right hand, pushing a leather ball through the air with sniper-like precision through an 18-inch iron circle.

Heading to Bridgton Academy in Maine this fall to undergo a postgraduate year, Downes has hopes of getting noticed. He has been on the phone and corresponded with numerous Division 1 and Division 2 NCAA basketball coaches of late. They have watched his game films. He is on their radar screen. He has hopes and dreams that are not easily realized for a frame and physique a college coach might find in any high school in any town in a nation that has over 18,150 high school boys’ basketball teams and over 1.1 million high school basketball players.

But it does not stop him. His is as undaunted as he was on February 19 when he unloaded 15 points in four minutes of overtime against Dartmouth to lead his Blue Knights to victory in front of nearly 2,000 screaming fans.

Sandwich High senior co-captain Joey Downes finished his career with over 600 career assists and 1,534 points and led his Blue Knights to a school record 21-2 campaign last winter. Sean Walsh/ Sports

Sandwich High senior co-captain Joey Downes finished his career with over 600 career assists and 1,534 points and led his Blue Knights to a school record 21-2 campaign last winter.
Sean Walsh/ Sports

He is as undaunted as he was for each of his 1,534 career points or any of his 200-plus career steals or nearly 600 career assists. If you think being the all-time greatest basketball player in the history of your hometown high school has an inflated ego, you would be exceedingly incorrect. He is as humble a human being as one could ever hope to meet. He is as selfless and devoid of ego as a missionary. Rarely does he express emotions when competing. He is well-trained to not allow his adversaries to key in on weaknesses. He is every coach’s dream and he feeds off of adversity while making those around him shine in the spotlight.

Joey Downes’s vision is to play in front of 25,000 screaming fans in the midst of NCAA’s March Madness one day soon, on some college campus in some place that wants to hedge its bets on a very “together” young man who seems a perfect mix of Pete Maravich, Danny Ainge and Bobby Hurley all mixed into one.

There have been exactly 24 NBA basketball players who were five-feet-nine inches tall, none of whom were ever daunted by their size or their physique or some statistic that said they should be a certain way to play a sport generally perfected by massive, muscle-bound human specimens.

Joey Downes, the best 18-year-old high school basketball player on Cape Cod, catches a leather orb and leaps 28 inches in the air and lets the orb roll off his fingertips as his wrist snaps in a downward motion and his eyes watch the orb fall effortlessly through the orange rim.

The chapters of his young heart are written in invisible ink upon that ball as it thuds against the gleaming maple wood below.

And the hardest-working student-athlete on Cape Cod just pushes himself harder.

His vision and dream depend on it.

— Sean Walsh’s column, One on One, is published each Friday online at His email is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @coachwalshccbm

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