June 21, 2024

The Arcadia Invitational high jump competition was about to begin. Athletes were going through their warmups, stretching and practicing going over the bar.

Deshawn Banks of Birmingham High finally made an appearance, the last of 15 to check in. He took a seat on the turf, removed his sweats and tied his shoe laces. It was as if he just got out of his car, found his way to the field and needed no preparation to compete in one of the biggest meets of the track season.

And you’d be right. At this time last year, he had just completed his junior basketball season and knew nothing about high jumping. Birmingham basketball coach Nick Halic suggested to his players they join a spring sport to help with their development.

He first started playing volleyball, then changed his mind.

“I chose track because I knew a couple girls on the team,” Banks said.

The high jump became his event because he was close to 6 feet 4 with a vertical leap so impressive Halic said, “He’s one of the highest-jumping kids I’ve seen. He would do stuff in practice that you’d be amazed and it was effortless.”

Basketball player Deshawn Banks of Birmingham has found success in the high jump.

Basketball player Deshawn Banks of Birmingham has found success in the high jump.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Banks really didn’t know what he was doing in the high jump. He saw his football teammate, Peyton Waters, doing it, so he copied him.

“I was literally going off how Peyton was jumping and people were telling me how to do it,” he said.

That was pretty much the extent of his high jump knowledge.

“My form was terrible,” he said.

He’d go on to win the City Section title at 6-6 and tied for fifth place at the state championships at 6-4.

This season, he went a career-best 6-10 at the Redondo Union Invitational and then Saturday night won at Arcadia by clearing 6-9.

When coaches say “the sky is the limit” in describing their athletes, it fits Banks perfectly.

“I can only imagine how good he’s going to be,” Halic said. “You never know. You could see this dude in the Olympics.”

Banks is finally getting some coaching. A math teacher at Birmingham, Jonathan Wratten, used to high jump in college and has been giving him tips. He’s still learning and experimenting.

“A couple coaches tell me I have to run up faster,” he said of his approach. “My run up is too slow and I could be jumping so much higher.”

The good news is Banks’ discovery of having talent for the high jump is something he wants to keep developing. He’s put basketball on hold. He was an All-City player last season for Birmingham, which made it to the City Section Open Division semifinals.

“His gift is this track and field event,” Halic said.

It wouldn’t be the first time a basketball player switched to high jumping. Former Bishop Alemany basketball player Earnest Sears III was high jumping throughout high school and got so good he went 7 feet and ended up being a two-time Pac-12 champion for USC.

“If I had been doing this for four years, I would be a lot different,” Banks said.

Banks has plenty of time to keep improving. He’ll compete at Mt. SAC in two weeks, will be heavily favored to win another City title in May, then seek a state title May 24-25 in Clovis.

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