Kentucky’s Anthony Davis closing in on Derrick Rose territory
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com March 30, 2012 11:52PM
Kentucky forward Anthony Davis warms up during a practice session for the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament Friday, March 30, 2012, in New Orleans. Kentucky plays Louisville in a semifinal game on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Kentucky vs. Louisville, 5:09 p.m.
Kansas vs. Ohio State, 7:49 p.m.
The facts: Ch. 2, 1000-AM.
Updated: May 1, 2012 8:34AM
NEW ORLEANS — The remarkable saga of Kentucky man-child Anthony Davis took an impressive stride Friday when the 6-10 freshman from Perspectives, a South Side charter school, accepted the Associated Press National Player of the Year Award.
Davis will try to put another notch in his belt tonight when the Wildcats square off with their fierce rival, Louisville, in the Final Four.
This will mark the second time in five years that coach John Calipari, the controversial charmer, has ridden a precocious South Side freshman to Final Four glory. In 2008, when Coach Cal, as he’s known far and wide, was still at Memphis, Derrick Rose was the Tigers’ point guard before being selected No. 1 overall by the Bulls.
Calipari didn’t invoke the Rose connection when he was recruiting Davis.
‘‘I only met him one time,’’ Rose said, ‘‘and that was at the Simeon-Whitney Young game at UIC [last winter], when Coach Cal was there.’’
It’s understandable, though, that Davis is a Rose admirer.
‘‘I haven’t played with him, but he’s a great player,’’ Davis said. ‘‘I talked to him when I was home for Christmas. Said, ‘What’s up?’ to him. I look up to him. He’s from Chicago, maybe five or 10 minutes from where I live. He made a name for himself in the NBA — MVP last year. He really represents Chicago.’’
The expectation is that Davis also will follow in Rose’s large footsteps on NBA draft day as the top overall pick. People are even pondering the possibility that Davis could end up here in New Orleans with the struggling Hornets.
‘‘I’ve seen some Twitter things about that,’’ Davis said. ‘‘At this point, you’re just focusing on reaching your goal of being a national champion. You can’t let your mind wander. You have to be prepared to play these games.’’
Cynics and historians will say it’s no coincidence that Calipari was able to lure such a remarkable pair of athletes from Chicago to Southern schools. From UMass, where the NCAA turned up Marcus Camby receiving cash and favors from agents, to Memphis, where the NCAA said someone else took Rose’s SAT, to Kentucky, where there has been speculation about a payment when Davis chose the Wildcats, Calipari has always stayed a step ahead of the scrutiny.
Beyond his teams’ successes, the end-games have been good for Coach Cal’s star-crossed stars, who have been able to showcase themselves for their future NBA employers.
‘‘There was no pressure at all,’’ Davis said when I asked him if there was neighborhood heat to stay closer to home. ‘‘You go out there and ball, do what you do. Don’t worry about what anyone else says. I like Kentucky’s style of play. They get up and down, fast-paced. It’s a great academic school and it’s kind of far away from home, but not that far.’’
Calipari, the master of the one-year wonders, knows what an unselfish gem he has in Davis, a 63 percent shooter who averages 14.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocked shots.
‘‘I’ve been blessed,’’ said Calipari, referring to the growth spurts that transformed Camby and Davis. ‘‘Marcus Camby was 6-3 and went to 6-10 in a year. Anthony Davis went from 6-3 to 6-9 in a year. You have a guard-skilled, nimble player in a big man’s body. I’ve had that twice. If there are any other young people who’ve gone from 6-3 to 6-10, I’d like another one. They are unique. Both of the guys I had were unselfish, deferred to their teammates. I’ve been blessed to have two of those kinds of guys.’’
It’s also remarkable that Davis emerged from Perspectives, a school so small it doesn’t have its own gym.
‘‘I did find that weird at first,’’ Davis said. ‘‘What high school doesn’t have a gym?’’
For all the accolades and the likelihood of NBA fame and fortune, Davis is the same humble kid who used to practice on an outdoor rim in the parking lot at Perspectives, which played its home games at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
‘‘Anthony’s never been a cocky person,’’ said 6-5 Louisville freshman Wayne Blackshear, another McDonald’s All-American from Chicago. ‘‘I’ve known him since we were in fifth grade. I never thought he’d grow this tall. But he had his growth spurt and became an elite player.’’
An elite player whose upside is so huge he has a chance to become a South Side legend on the order of D-Rose.