- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Anthony Davis Sr. wasn't expecting to hear from any college coaches after his son Anthony Davis Jr. returned from the Boo Williams Nike Invitational in Virginia in early April.
It wasn't that Davis doubted his son's ability. It was just that the high school junior hadn't played on the AAU scene since eighth grade, and he had only one half to show coaches what he was capable of as he sprained his ankle in his first game with his new club team, MeanStreets.
But the day after his son returned, the elder Davis' phone rang, then it rang again and again and again. While the younger Davis might have only played a short while in just one game, college coaches from coast to coast had seen enough of the 6-foot-8 (6-10 with shoes on), 185-pound forward to realize he was something special, and it was why they quickly began calling his father.
"No, I had no idea at all it was going to be like that," the elder Davis said. "When the phone started ringing, it was a total shock. From there, my phone has been ringing off the hook. I didn't expect anything like this. Right now, I'm still trying to soak everything in. I'm trying to believe what's going on with my son. I'm a proud father."
In the past month, Davis has gone from being an unknown even in his hometown of Chicago to being the hottest recruit in the country, with the biggest names in college basketball now calling him and his father.
"I'm getting calls from schools I never thought I'd be getting calls from," the younger Davis said. "I got a call from Harvard. I'm like, 'Harvard?' I never thought Harvard would be calling me."
Davis' story is one rarely written in today's basketball world. Scouts, coaches and media are falling over each other to find the next great talent at the earliest age possible, and Davis somehow remained hidden. Until now.
"An absolutely intriguing and unique story when you think about a player arriving on the scene this late in his career, especially in a basketball city like Chicago with so many eyes and mouthpieces out there," said City/Suburban Hoops Report's Joe Henricksen, one of the area's leading scouting analysts.
Davis' previous anonymity can be explained, though.
For one thing, he has attended Perspectives Charter Schools since sixth grade. Davis' parents chose Perspectives as it was the best bet academically for their child. Athletically, it's a different story. Davis' high school has an enrollment of less than 200 students and has to co-op with another one of Perspectives' schools to assemble a basketball team. The program doesn't even have a gym of its own, and coaches come and go.
Perspectives belongs to the Public League Blue-West, which is a tier below the league's top Red division. The level of basketball isn't dreadful, but doesn't come near that of the Red. It occasionally produces a Division I player, and there are plenty of other players capable of playing at some level of college basketball.
The Blue-West doesn't receive much outside attention. While Davis was putting up 30 points and 12 rebounds a game this past season at Perspectives, his performances went unnoticed by local media and scouts.
"It was kind of frustrating," Davis said. "I was thinking, 'Wayne Blackshear, Mike Shaw, I played with all them guys for a long time when we were little. All those guys in the Red West were doing these big things, but not putting up big numbers, and I'm putting up humungous numbers and I'm not getting known.' I guess they figure since it's the Blue West and they're in the Red West they have better competition than us."
Another reason Davis flew under the radar was because he stopped playing club basketball after eighth grade. While club basketball may draw criticism, few can argue over the amount of exposure it can provide a player. It can especially be vital to players like Davis who are rarely seen during their high school seasons. Before Davis joined MeanStreets, Cleveland State and DePaul were the only schools that had bothered to give him a look.
"We knew he was skilled, but to what level that was the value we didn't know," Perspectives athletic director Vinay Mullick said. "Obviously, the world of AAU is crazy. It's taken over recruiting. The AAU exposure has been great for him."
Lastly, Davis was a 6-2 guard a year ago. Although his father is just 6-2 and there aren't any other giants in his family, Davis somehow grew 6 inches over the past year.
"He's still growing," his father said. "We don't know where the height is coming from. It's freakish. He just skyrocketed over everybody."
Once a versatile guard who could handle the ball and shoot it, Davis became a 6-8 forward who could do the same because he never lost his coordination. With his height, slender build and guard-like skills, Davis now draws constant comparisons to longtime Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince.
"First of all, he's long," MeanStreets CEO Tai Streets said. "Usually a guy that big can't dribble and shoot and that stuff. Right away, I could see he was different than most big guys. He can really play. He's involved in every play. He can play defense. He can do a lot of things on the court. He can shoot the ball, run the floor, he can finish. He's tough, too. He reminds me of a Dirk Nowitzki at the high school level."
Davis displayed a glimpse of that at Boo Williams. Two weeks later, he was healthy again and able to show his complete game throughout a whole weekend at the Nike Spring Showdown in Merrillville, Ind.
Just this past weekend, he did it again at the Spiece Run 'N Slam tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind. It was there that ESPN Scouts Inc. recruiting coordinator Reggie Rankin caught his first glimpse of Davis.
"Once you see him, it's a no-brainer," Rankin said. "He was very, very impressive, and I saw him at 8 o'clock in the morning in a small high school gym. His upside is big-time. He's got size and skill. He's got unbelievable hands. He can catch tough passes and finish them. He can make mid-range jumpers. He can rebound and bust out dribble on the break.
"He was the best player I saw this weekend. He's really good, man. He's got a chance to very special. The only thing he is lacking is strength. Once he gets that strength down, he's as good of a post as I've seen in that class."
College coaches have been drooling over Davis' potential. Syracuse, a school that traditionally doesn't recruit Chicago, offered him after seeing him play just once. Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin have followed suit. Harvard, Memphis, Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Xavier are among a number of other schools now recruiting him as well.
As one Big Ten coach recently texted about him, "Can you say, 'Wow?!!' Spoke to the dad the other night! High priority kid!"
It all has been a bit overwhelming for Davis.
"I didn't expect nothing like this," Davis said. "I knew I would have some colleges and some media attention, but not like this, not a whole lot. It's been hectic, but it's a great experience. It's really crazy to have a lot of coaches calling me wanting me to come to their school. I thought before, 'I guess I'll be going to Cleveland State.' No one recognized me. To have all these coaches calling me is a real big thing."
Illinois' Class of 2011 has been raved about as one of the best in the state's history, with the likes of Blackshear (Louisville recruit), Shaw, Tracy Abrams (Illinois), Ryan Boatright, Nnanna Egwu (Illinois), Chasson Randle, Sam Thompson, Mycheal Henry, George Marshall (Wisconsin) and others. And now it adds one more high-major talent, and Streets believes Davis might be the best of the bunch in the long run.
"If he can stay hungry, the sky's the limit for this kid," Streets said. "I don't usually say that about kids. Honestly, if he keeps working, stays hungry and keeps being competitive, I would take him over anyone in that class when it's all said and done because of the tremendous upside he has.
"He's definitely unfinished. He's still raw. It's amazing to see a kid like this. It's definitely refreshing."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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