Anthony Davis reaching for the stars
In NBA, can he repeat the meteoric two-year ascent to championship?
"If you're good enough, they will find you wherever you are."
-- Coach Donnie Kirksey
When Hyde Park Career Academy then-basketball coach Donnie Kirksey advised Anthony Davis Sr. that his son should stay put for his junior season at the small 200-student charter school he'd attended since sixth grade, he had no idea how found Anthony Davis Jr. would become in less than two years.
Davis is at the center of the basketball world, cutting down nets and kissing trophies in front of the entire nation, being named both Naismith Trophy for player of the year and most outstanding player of the NCAA tournament Final Four. Even though he has yet to announce whether he's leaving the University of Kentucky, he's being talked about as the No.1 pick this year's NBA draft (and it's not just the experts; 57 percent of fans made him the runaway winner among the five options in an NBAcom poll asking "Who will be the top pick in the 2012 draft?"). In short, he quietly is being looked at by some as basketball's future.
The surreal case of Davis' future is one too impossible and improbable to predict. Rarely, if ever, have we seen a player come from total obscurity to sit atop the mountaintop of nonprofessional basketball is such a short period of time. From "nowhere to go where" (as Common would say) at a Jeremy Lin pace.
Think about it: When was the last time a kid -- any kid! -- was so under-the-radar that he didn't even make his local All-State or All-Area team in his junior year, but became the No. 1 player in the country before he graduated high school?
Bill Walton won two state titles in high school. Moses Malone won two state championships and 50 games in a row. Magic Johnson became "Magic" in his sophomore year at Everett High School. Ralph Sampson won two state championships. Chris Webber won three state chips before becoming the Gatorade national player of the year.
Kevin Garnett might have been the most sought-after "free agent" in the history of high school basketball once word got out that he was transferring from Mauldin, S.C., to Farragut Career Academy in Chicago for his senior season. Kobe was the player of the year in Pennsylvania his junior year and was practicing with the 76ers before his senior year at Lower Merion High School. LeBron had his basketball diary in Slam long before his senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
Greg Oden was on everyone's radar the minute he and Michael Conley's AAU team became news in Indiana while they were in middle school. Derrick Rose damn near sold out a stadium in his high school debut as a sophomore. Kyrie Irving was on magazine covers (including Bounce) before he entered his junior year.
John Wall's high school career would be the closest to Davis' one-year rise from obscurity. But once he dropped 27 on Brandon Jennings in an AAU game in Philly in 2007, two years before he graduated from high school, the radar found him.
In the history of this game in this country what happened -- and is happening -- to Davis doesn't happen. It's never happened. Cue Al Michaels, circa 1980.
Will this miracle continue?
One NBA scout who has been associated with various NBA teams and scouted internationally for FIBA (the scout asked for anonymity due to NBA tampering rules) said to me when asked about Davis' future: "I think you are looking at a guy that ultimately projects as a franchise level player. There's still a rawness to his game offensively, and there will be a curve but you see the fluidity, the signs of a post game, the skill set is all there and with his demeanor, attitude, care factor for winning -- there's no reason to believe he won't continue to develop and add the necessary bulk to his body. There's a legitimate Garnett comparison with body type, high skill level, mobility and defensive intangibles. He's a lot more rounded than Oden was coming out. [And] for a freshman to win player of the year -- the only other time that's happened is Kevin Durant."
Durant wasn't a star amongst stars and didn't end his one-and-done campaign with pieces of nylon dangling from up under a "NO-1 GREATER" baseball cap. Still, he went No. 2 overall in the draft, and if Davis' NBA career follows Durant's arc, anybody who picks him will be ecstatic.
Davis' NBA future lies in the hands of who drafts him and whether he's able to handle what's about to happen to him with the same ease, willingness and openness he's handled what has already happened to him.
He's not a traditional center, nor is he a traditional power forward. It's going to be interesting to see whether his new team tries to turn him into something he's not or adjusts around him. Sort of like what the Bulls have done with Joakim Noah or what only a few teams have tried with Tyson Chandler. It's going to take the right coach smart enough (like John Calipari) to recognize that the kid is unique, and from there to know how to get the max out of Davis' abilities, build his abilities and win rings because of his abilities. It may take a while, it may not happen inside of the first/rookie contract, but hopefully someone in the league will figure out how to build around Davis so he has the same impact in the NBA that he had in college.
From a basketball fan's perspective, I'm hoping he finds his NBA game in the same time frame as his meteoric rise to this point.
And so does Kirksey. When asked the day after Davis won Kentucky's eighth national championship if he thought the world had found Anthony Davis, the coach told me, "I never expected success would come to him this soon. But I knew from the way his father and his mother, with their work ethic and the way they were raising him, and making sure he remains humble, that one day he'd have a lot of success."
And then there's Wall's path through Kentucky -- very similar but without the title.
"I may be growing up -- but I don't want to grow up too fast," Wall said in an interview during that freshman season.
Anthony Davis didn't have that luxury. He still doesn't. He's growing up before us faster than anyone we've ever seen before in the sport. Maybe that's the miracle.