Anthony Davis came to Kentucky with big expectations — and may have exceeded them.
He openly talked about wanting to win a national championship, something No. 1 Kentucky certainly is in position to do going into the NCAA Tournament. However, he’s also leading the nation in blocked shots (166) and is the nation’s third best field goal percentage shooter (63.6 percent). He’s averaging 14.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, both team highs, going into Friday’s NCAA tournament South Regional semifinal against Indiana. In 30 of 36 games, he has scored in double figures with 18 double-doubles, the second best total ever by a UK freshman.
The U.S. Basketball Writers Association named Davis its national player of the year Monday after naming him the national freshman of the year last week. He’s the first UK player ever to win the ward. He was also named a finalist Monday for Naismith Trophy for college player of the year by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. The other three finalists for the award are Kansas junior Thomas Robinson, Michigan State senior Draymond Green and Creighton sophomore Doug McDermott. Fans can vote for the player by texting VOTE to 34763.
Additionally, he’s considered a consensus top pick in the June NBA draft.
“I don’t think anybody really knew for sure what kind of player he was,” UK radio network analyst Mike Pratt, a former Kentucky standout, said. “We heard about him and heard he could block shots. Because of that, he may have exceeded expectations. John Wall exceeded mine. I just didn’t know how quick he was. Big Cuz (DeMarcus Cousins) was as good as advertised.
“I don’t believe any scouting services when they rate players. Do you think they watch lateral quickness? They take what college coaches tell them and just plug it into their reports. I think when I looked at him, I didn’t think he could be the factor he has been this year. He really knows how to play skilled. When I first saw him, I knew he could play the game. But I didn’t know he could take the hits to the body and play. He really knows how to get it done.”
Many did wonder if Davis’ slim build would negate his shot-blocking skills against heavier, stronger opponents. However, opponents have tried to attack him — or avoid him — in different ways with no real success this season.
“He still has a long way tot go to be where I thought he would be offensively, but he’s doing more all the time,” Pratt said.
Davis has shown his outside shot more and more the last month, and has also added a left-handed jump hook to his right-handed hook. He’s also put the ball on the floor more to drive to the basket the last month.
Still, what he does best is rebound and block shots.
“I never thought he could rebound and block shots and not foul and keep the ball in play the way he has. He does two things — not foul and keep the ball in play — better than I ever anticipated,” Pratt said.
“This kid just knows what he is doing. I just never thought there was any way a kid 18 that had grown so fast would have that type of skill set, but he does. That’s where he is better than he was advertised.
“He just knows how to rebound and block shots with that slender body and not foul and still keep the ball in play. No one dominates like this kid does defensively.”
Jim Host, who has been involved with UK¿sports since 1954 and was recently named to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, says Davis easily in the best defensive player he’s seen at Kentucky.
However, he doesn’t stop there.
“I have never seen a better defensive player period other than Bill Russell. I think Bill Russell is acknowledged as being the best of all time, but I¿think this guy has a chance to be the greatest of all time,” Host said.
Russell, of course, was the legendary center for the Boston Celtics who dominated games with his defense and rebounding. He was not the offensive force of some centers, but his defense made him the NBA’s most dominant defender. Being compared to him by Host is special.
“He has to put on more weight and be able to stand more physical abuse than he has been taking and as the season has progressed they have all abused him more, but he still has a chance to be the greatest of all time. Russell was the greatest of all time as a defensive basketball player, but this kid could surpass him,” Host said.
Pratt says Davis in some ways reminds him of Artis Gilmore, Bill Walton and Akeem Olajuwon, all former NBA stars known for their defensive prowess.
“He’s also like Cedric Maxwell that I¿coached at (North Carolina) Charlotte. Cedric had those long arms and blocked shots and kept the ball in play. They have similar skill sets,” Pratt said. “Sam Bowie and Pervis Ellison also had long arms and could block shots and keep the ball inbounds.
“I am not saying who is better, but they all had similar body styles, weights. They all could block shots and stayed out of foul trouble like this kid does. But Davis is special, probably even more special than I even realized after I first saw him. You can’t really appreciate him until you watch him play and see what he does over and over and over to impact games. We all thought he would be good, just not this good.”