Ex-Wildcat grew into an unlikely No. 1 lock

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2012 - 6:44 PM

Anthony Davis, a 6-10 pillar of an NCAA title team, was once a 6-2 guard with more modest hoop dreams.

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Anthony Davis: The talented Kentucky big man expects New Orleans to call his name first tonight.

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Like the crazy, true-blue Kentucky fans who flocked to cheer him last season, Anthony Davis wore a T-shirt with a catchy little slogan when he met reporters at the NBA's annual Chicago draft combine earlier this month.

Those fans last winter wore apparel that read "Bow to the Brow," a playful reference to the Thursday night draft's guaranteed No. 1 overall pick and his singular eyebrow.

Davis himself wore a shirt in Chicago with three big words emblazoned on it: Check My Stats.

"If you wanted to check the stats, then I'd be the No. 1 pick easily," Kansas forward Thomas Robinson responded later in the same hotel ballroom. "I should get one of those shirts."

Robinson's biased.

He also might be the only one alive who'd suggest that Davis won't be the first player selected in this year's draft Thursday night.

"It's a great feeling," Davis said that day, "but it's not set in stone."

Oh, yeah?

Davis' selection first overall is about the only thing set in a draft in which Robinson, Florida's Bradley Beal, North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Davis' Kentucky teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be taken in some unknown order after he goes No. 1 to New Orleans, the city where he won an NCAA national championship in April.

"I won one championship there," Davis said. "Now I want to win another one there."

When his name is called, he will become the first player since a guy named Lew Alcindor -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to you whippersnappers -- to win an NCAA title, be college Player of the Year and be taken first overall in the NBA draft. (Alcindor did so in 1969.)

Davis also will become the second Chicago-raised player in five years -- Derrick Rose, by Chicago in 2008 -- to be drafted first.

Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love might quibble otherwise, but Davis is considered a potential "franchise" player because of his 6-10 height, 7-5 wingspan, 9-foot standing reach and an above-the-rim athleticism that has inspired old-timers to compare him to Bill Russell or a young Tim Duncan.

One night before a game at Golden State in March, Love refuted the notion that Davis will be an instant NBA superstar, mostly because he'll play the same power-forward position as such guys as Love, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Josh Smith, etc.

"That's a lot of guys," Love said. "It's not easy every night. He's going to find that out."

But only four years ago, Davis was a 6-2 point guard at a small private school in Chicago who first attracted the attention of college recruiters when tiny Cleveland State coaches got interested after Davis started to grow.

He retained those guard skills but grew to 6-6, then 6-8 and finally 6-10 in a sudden spurt that required his parents to buy him not only new clothes and shoes every few months but eventually a new bed as well.

And he ended up in Lexington, Ky., and not Cleveland.

At age 19, he's probably still growing, in height, his game, just about everywhere.

"You are talking about a man who had no idea how good he was," Kentucky coach John Calipari said on the day Davis and the Wildcats' other four starters all declared in April for the draft. "We didn't either. We knew he had a chance, but he didn't realize and neither did we. You are talking about a man who would also defer, who said, 'Whatever I have to do to help the team.' Here is the Player of the Year who took the fourth-most shots on our team. Blocked shots, rebounds, did whatever we needed to win and always had a smile on his face."

Davis might be humble and unaware of his potential. He's also smart and confident.

Davis is seeking trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for exclusive rights to phrases related to his famous unibrow.

He went on the Dan Patrick radio show in May and said he's looking forward to reaching the NBA so he can shut down Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, a comment that silly Internet blogs and sports-talk radio turned into headlines that the rookie had "dissed" the former league MVP.

"I didn't call out Kobe," Davis said. "They asked me who I'd like to play in the league and shut down. I know Kobe is one of the greatest players who ever played the game. I always thought if you want to be great you have to face the greats. Since he's a great player, I'd like to play him and see how I match up against him. He's a legend of the game. I'd never be disrespectful to him."

Four years after his father persuaded him to wait and not commit to a scholarship offer from Cleveland State, he now will become the draft's No. 1 pick and the face of a New Orleans franchise that only six months ago dealt away superstar Chris Paul and started all over.

"I never thought this would happen," Davis told reporters the day he declared for the draft. "A 6-2 guard with no aspirations or plan of playing pro or college ball. ... Just thinking back on it, this is great and shocking as well."

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