Editor's Note: Anthony Davis was named NEXT for the Jan. 9, 2012 issue of ESPN The Magazine. You can read more about him here.
For Anthony Davis, basketball is all about being like Kevin. "Kevin Durant on offense, Kevin Garnett on defense," Davis says when asked to describe the game he's building. The Kentucky frosh, the top-rated prospect in his class, isn't being hyperbolic. An NBA Eastern Conference executive also brought up KG's name in describing the 6'10" forward, and the comparison didn't just end at their skill sets. "He has 'it,'" the exec says. "He has Garnett's demeanor. When you watch him, you know he's going to be special. He has a fluidity and grace that is unusual. He is probably the first pick in the draft." But that same exec also says it wouldn't surprise him if Davis were to spend another year at Kentucky, a la Jared Sullinger at Ohio State. Because as skilled as Davis is -- blocking shots with either hand, attacking the rim, nailing face-up jumpers -- he is obsessed with getting better. The Chicago native landed at Kentucky in part because of John Calipari's willingness to push him, and he's already trying to add a more refined post game to his repertoire. If that happens? The possibilities are downright scary.
"He's a monster." That's what Kemba Walker recently told the Hartford Courant on a trip back to UConn, where he encountered the Huskies' freshman center firsthand. And that's pretty much the consensus of anyone who has faced Drummond, a 6'10", 270-pound beast in the paint who should be one of the top two picks in the 2012 NBA draft. Drummond was supposed to be in high school this year, but in late August, he decided to enroll in college a year early (he would've been a fifth-year prep player), which immediately made the Huskies a legit threat to repeat as NCAA champs. If that happens, he just might inspire similar leaps by other top recruits. And it helps that his game has rarely been seen at the college level, conjuring comparisons to Amar'e Stoudemire and Dwight Howard. "Things come so easily to him," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. So easily, in fact, that it's easy to forget his age. "If he learns how to carry a team every time he steps on the floor, combined with his physical ability, you're looking at an NBA All-Star down the road," says ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep. Given Drummond's willingness to jump up a level so quickly, though, he should be ready to take that NEXT step.
Perry Jones wasn't even supposed to be at Baylor right now. A consensus top-10 recruit a season ago with enormous pro potential, the 6'11" forward shocked the basketball world by passing on the NBA draft to return for his sophomore season. Despite being a certain lottery pick, 13.9 ppg and 7.2 rpg wasn't enough for him -- Jones is out to prove that his production can match his potential. And that potential is substantial. "In terms of size-to-skill ratio, he's a very, very rare player," says an NBA Eastern Conference exec. "He has great length and athleticism and remarkable skills for his size -- it surprises you that he's as much a 3 as a 4. He's literally unlimited physically." And he won himself even more fans in the NBA community by returning to Baylor, which showed the recognition that he still has more to prove (as a shot-blocker, inside scorer and physical player, to start) and is willing to be coached. But you simply can't coach his length, speed, hops and skills, which form a virtual blueprint for future NBA success.
He's just a high school junior, but Jabari Parker has already pulled off a feat that Derrick Rose, Nick Anderson and all the other stars who played at Chicago's famed Simeon Career Academy couldn't accomplish: He started as a freshman. That's a nice little piece of trivia and all, but Parker wants more. Much more. The 6'8", 220-pound forward is driven to be the best player in his class and to maximize every ounce of his God-given talent. And there's plenty of that to go around for the son of former NBA baller Sonny Parker. ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep compares Parker's game to a cross between Grant Hill and Paul Pierce. But what really separates Parker is his mental approach. Off the court, he's as humble a kid as you'll find, rooted in his Mormon faith. On the court, another side comes out. "It's his basketball ego," Telep says. "And that is simply a drive to be the best player he can possibly be." That, combined with a preternatural IQ for the game, is why Telep says that every time you see Parker, he has transformed another facet of his game. It's also why 30-plus coaches showed up at his September open gym session -- including Coach K in a limo.
For a guy who is the reigning top pick in the NBA draft, we've not seen much of Kyrie Irving. In high school, he was a late-bloomer who burst onto the national scene as an upperclassman, but hardly carried the hype of, say, Harrison Barnes. He took over the reins as Duke's point guard last season and was dominant from the start -- until he injured his toe after just eight games and remained sidelined until the NCAA Tourney. And now he's waiting around until the lockout ends to show off his skills at the NBA level. But when he gets his chance, watch out. Irving has the handle, vision and range to excel as both a passer and scorer at the point. His speed doesn't reach John Wall's gear, but his ability to change directions flawlessly and finish with remarkable body control from impossible angles more than compensates. And with the bright smile and a winning attitude that endeared him to Coach K despite just one year at Duke, he could be just the right leader for a Cavs franchise that's still feeling a bit, uh, dismissed.