How Chicago’s Anthony Davis rose to No. 1 pick in NBA draft
BY MICHAEL O’BRIEN Twitter: @michaelsobrien June 28, 2012 9:46PM
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:33AM
Chicago will produce another Derrick Rose and another Jabari Parker. Their stories are spectacular but familiar: a lightning-quick, super-athletic point guard and a 6-9 ultra-polished, do-everything superstar. Those don’t come along often, but for every Rose there was an Isiah Thomas before him, for every Parker an Antoine Walker.
There never will be another story like Anthony Davis.
It’s impossible to imagine another 6-foot guard in the Public League’s lowly Blue Division growing into a 7-foot basketball virtuoso, winning a college national title and becoming the top pick in the NBA draft.
Rose, the No. 1 pick in 2008 and Parker, the possible top pick in 2014, played at Simeon, the state’s basketball powerhouse. Both were grammar-school legends.
Davis was the kid no one really wanted on the team.
‘‘Most of the coaches on the South Side knew him as the little guy who would shoot threes from the corner in junior high,’’ Simeon coach Robert Smith recalled shortly after Davis’ rise to prominence in the summer of 2010. ‘‘There weren’t schools dying to get him on their team.’’
Davis grew to 6-4 as a sophomore and 6-7 as a junior. Contrary to the legend that has cropped up, he wasn’t a total unknown. Regular readers of the boys basketball scores had seen his name next to some lofty point totals during his junior season. Perspectives-MSA finished 8-15, but he played well enough to get a scholarship offer from Cleveland State. Some city coaches also took notice then, but Davis resisted the urge to transfer and decided to stay at Perspectives for his senior season.
His life started to change when he joined Tai Streets’ Meanstreets club basketball team the summer before his senior year. Davis had grown to 6-10 but retained the skills he had as a 6-foot guard. He could still handle the ball, still could shoot it and had uncanny passing instincts for a player of his size. Meanstreets traveled the country and Davis played to rave reviews. John Calipari and Thad Matta had replaced Cleveland State.
There were doubters everywhere. Until they saw him play, no coach or reporter or analyst seemed to really believe the hype. Yes, it’s possible to grow that fast, but to become a polished basketball player, the best in the country? It seemed so unlikely.
The national analysts had split opinions. Bob Gibbons had Austin Rivers ranked first, with Davis sixth. Rivals also ranked him sixth and ESPN had him third. The two believers were Scout and Van Coleman. Both gave Davis the top spot.
“Davis is a hungry, impact shot-blocker and a guy who runs the floor with size, speed and grace. He can play inside and facing the basket,” said Dave Telep, then of Scout.com. “What he’s got on the others is hunger and his status as a late-bloomer. It’s a roll of the dice to go No. 1 with him, but [it was] a move we became increasingly comfortable with while watching his quick evolution.”
That’s exactly what it was, a lightning-quick evolution — something that hadn’t been seen in Chicago basketball before and likely won’t be seen again. Shortly before his senior year, Davis was embroiled in controversy. The Sun-Times reported Davis’ college commitment was for sale. He went to Kentucky and put the story behind him, turning in a magnificent freshman season that put to rest any doubts about his game.
Now Davis is off to New Orleans, where he will attempt to become the second Public League player in the last few years to make the All-Star team and win an MVP award.
Public League basketball is regularly written off as an undisciplined, unorganized mess. And, yes, sometimes that can be true. But the Public League also has produced two No. 1 picks in five years, with Parker and Jahlil Okafor looming as possible top picks in 2014 and 2015.
No other league and no other city can compete with that.