Just three months from Big Blue Madness, the official tipoff to the 2011-12 Kentucky basketball season, UKAthletics.com writers Eric Lindsey and Guy Ramsey will be profiling UK’s five newcomers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Kyle Wiltjer, Marquis Teague and Ryan Harrow, in a CoachCal.com exclusive series. Next up is Anthony Davis.
Anthony Davis has every reason to look ahead.
Without playing a game at the college level, Davis has already drawn comparisons to NBA stars like Kevin Garnett and Marcus Camby for his athleticism, defensive prowess and diverse skillset.
Professional scouts are already drooling over him and wondering what kind of player he can become at the next level. Even though many of the NCAA’s top players opted to pass on the 2011 NBA Draft and return to school, Davis sits atop many mock drafts as the projected No. 1 overall pick in 2012.
Davis, though, isn’t going to get caught peeking. The Chicago, Ill., native is wholly focused on his upcoming freshman season at Kentucky where he will play alongside the top-ranked incoming class in the nation and a group of returners that figures to give John Calipari an excellent chance to take his second consecutive team to the Final Four.
“The (NBA) is a whole season away, multiple seasons away if anything,” Davis said in an exclusive interview with CoachCal.com. “I’m not really worried about that. In a college season, anything can happen. I might be ready to leave and I might not. There’s a whole college season and I’m just focused on winning a national championship for Coach Cal and bringing Big Blue Nation number eight. That’s the only thing I’m focused on right now.”
That focus on the present comes partially from Davis’ unique rise as the top prospect. Davis’ story, by now, is well known. As a high school junior, he was a guard trying to earn a college scholarship wherever he could find it. It was then that Davis shot up, in terms of both his height and his ranking as a prospect.
By the end of his junior year, he had grown over half a foot, but he held on to the skills he developed as a guard. Davis didn’t grow anymore over the summer, but he showcased his talents (and his newfound height) on the AAU circuit and accepted UK’s scholarship offer before his senior year began.
While many top prospects have looked at basketball as a career for years, that concept is a novel one to Davis. He is less than two years removed from trying to scrape for a way to pay for his college education. Not a day goes by that Davis does not remember that.
“I think about that every day,” Davis said. “It was God’s gift to give me height and give me talent, especially coming out of nowhere. I was 6-2, 6-3 last year and shot up to 6-10. I give all thanks to God and I think it’s a sign that He wants me to do great things. I think about that every day.”
Reinforcing Davis’ belief that his height is a sign that great things are in store for him is the fact that he is, by far, the tallest member of his family. Davis’ twin sister, Antoinnete, is 5-foot-8 and his older sister, Lesha, is a 5-10 basketball player at Daley College. His parents are tall, his father is 6-3 and his mother is 6-1, but Anthony stands a head taller than them both.
The gifts that Davis has been blessed with are constant reminders for him to stop and remember the position he was in less than two years ago. Accordingly, Davis is thankful for where he is now and intent on making the best of the opportunity he has at UK.
Davis also believes he is charged with stewarding his gifts of height and talent as best he can. Most people that go through a growth spurt like Davis deal with extended periods of clumsiness, but Davis has remained agile and athletic all along. That can be partially credited to his extensive work in the gym, where he tries to pattern his game after Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant.
“Drills and doing workouts (have helped me) keep my speed and footwork,” Davis said. “I still do some of my guard workouts, basically like Kevin Durant does. He goes in the post, he shoots jumpers (and) he does dribble pull-ups. I really watch Kevin Durant a lot and try to (model) my game after his.”
Although Davis still prides himself on his guard skills, he knows that he will be called on to play in the post this upcoming season. With that in mind, Davis has made a second home out of the weight room. Davis’ playing weight for much of his final high school season was 190 pounds, but he has put on 30 pounds already and now weighs 220 pounds. He hopes to add another 15 before the season starts.
“I’ve just worked hard in the weight room,” Davis said. “The weight room and drinking the (protein) shakes, they really help. You just put in work, that’s it. I’m in the weight room every day getting stronger. I know the SEC is full of really strong guys in the post.”
That work in the weight room is important, but Davis believes that the real foundation for the success of next year’s team is being laid by the time that he and his teammates are spending together. Whether they are playing video games, hitting the weight room or simply hanging out in their rooms, the Wildcats are doing it together. Davis says that all the time spent together will pay dividends, especially the long hours playing pickup games.
“We’ve got that bond,” Davis said. “People just hanging out playing (video games), we’re getting to know each other better. Especially playing pickup, we see who plays well with who and who does what. It gives us an opportunity to see how we need to play and what combinations we can put on the floor together.”
Davis said they have largely played with the same teams in pickup basketball this summer and that he is on the squad that most often wins.
“It’s always me, Terrence Jones, Stacey Poole, Jarrod Polson and Twany Beckham,” Davis said. “We’re always on the same team for some odd reason. They picked the teams early and we always win so the other team always tries to beat us. We’re going to start changing it up to see who plays with who.”
With a remarkably talented group, highlight reel plays are a regular occurrence.
“When somebody makes a spectacular play, everybody says ‘I’m glad he’s on my team,’ ” Davis said. “Some of these guys are amazing. It’s unexplainable. I just love playing with them and every time we play pickup, we’re eager to play because something great is going to happen. Somebody is going to get dunked on or somebody is going to get crossed over.”
Davis couldn’t be more excited about being on the same team as those guys this season. Playing in high school for Perspectives Charter School, Davis knew he needed to put up numbers in bunches for his team to have any chance of winning. He responded, averaging 32 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a senior. When he first started playing pickup ball at UK, he faced an adjustment.
“Our first pickup game, it was weird,” Davis said. “When the other team scored, I actually came up to get the ball to bring it up. (Marquis) Teague was looking at me like ‘I got it,’ and I was like ‘Oh yeah, I forgot I don’t have to bring the ball up anymore.’ ”
Although Davis is capable of doing it all, he will no longer have to at UK.
“It’s just going to be great, taking some of the pressure off me,” Davis. “We’ve got a lot of talented guys. Everybody can do everything. It’s not just dependent on me to do everything. We’ve got other guys who can score and it makes the game a lot easier.”
In committing to play for Calipari at Kentucky, Davis accepted the challenge of playing with the highest level of talent possible. He knew that doing so would help improve his game and put him in the best position possible to win a national title. He was the third of UK’s stellar four-man freshman class to commit, joining Teague, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and, later, forward Kyle Wiltjer. Kidd-Gilchrist played a role in recruiting Davis to Kentucky and the two are now roommates.
With all four incoming freshmen signing in November, the group has known for a while they would be playing together and had chances to spend time with one another at high school all-star events this spring.
“We have a great bond,” Davis said. “Every time we went to the (Nike) Hoops Summit, the Jordan (Brand Classic) game, the McDonald’s (All-American) Game, we all hung out with each other to get that bond. We all know that bond needs to be tight if we’re going to win a national championship. There can’t be (any) arguing or bickering. We have to stay close and always protect each other no matter what.”
Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis share a professional future, but when they think about what they most look forward to, it isn’t hearing their name called in the draft lottery, signing a pro contract or taking the floor for their first game in an NBA arena. They think about the same event that UK fans wait for every year: Big Blue Madness.
“I’m really excited,” Davis said. “(Mike and I) were down in the locker room dancing yesterday singing a song and he (said), ‘This is what I’m coming out to,’ and he was dancing. I can’t wait. It’s going to be really exciting and really fun. I came last year and it was crazy. I can’t wait until I get on the floor and play in front of the fans.”
Tomorrow on CoachCal.com, we will have more from Anthony Davis on his decision to come to UK, his relationship with Coach Cal and his interactions with UK fans.
Follow-up notes on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist