Commentary

Anthony Davis grows into elite player

A growth spurt of seven inches changed everything for the Kentucky bound PF

Originally Published: December 7, 2010
By Dave Telep | ESPN Recruiting

A year ago, Anthony Davis looked in the mirror and saw a 6-foot-3 guard in search of a college scholarship. At the time, Davis owned a common name and a common basketball frame. He was watching guards to pick up tricks to use on the floor and hoped he could play in college. It would be months until Cleveland State would come see him play and make him a first scholarship offer.

Then, something happened. He grew a couple inches. Then a couple more. Then a couple more. Suddenly, the guard was now a power forward.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Scott Powers / ESPNChicago.comA year ago, no one would have imagined Anthony Davis would be the nation's No. 2 prospect or putting on a Kentucky hat and signing with the Wildcats.
"It came in spurts," Davis said. "At the beginning of the [junior] school year I was 6-3. Then I went to 6-5 and then 6-8."

Davis is now 6-10 and ranked No. 2 in the ESPNU 100. He signed to play for John Calipari and Kentucky. But there's more to it than just what happened on the hardwood. Growing seven inches changes everything, literally.

"It was really weird. My mom was buying clothes for me and then they were too small," he said. Davis went from a size 14 shoe to 17. "Right now I'm still growing; it's still weird."

And expensive. It wasn't like this was a family trait. Davis' twin sister, Antoinnete, is 5-8. Iesha, Davis' older sister, is a 5-10 freshman basketball player at Daley College. The tallest member of Davis' family (not including him) is an uncle who is 6-4. His dad is 6-3 and his mom is 6-1. So it's not like the family was equipped for this.

Davis' father, Anthony Sr., purchased a king size, extra-long bed for his son. "Every time I checked on him before, I would see his feet hanging off and that had to be uncomfortable."

Before the family found comfort in a pair of SUVs, Davis was relegated to riding shotgun in a Pontiac Grand Prix. "We bought the SUVs so he can have room to stretch," his father said. "The road trips we took out of town were not good for him [in the Grand Prix]."

Even Davis' role models changed.

"I liked Tracy McGrady and he was very good, and Allen Iverson was a good ball handler," he said. "Now I idolize Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett."

Once Davis began growing, his game evolved. Things like shot-blocking, a skill he never had developed or rarely needed as a guard, flourished. Rebounding, not exactly a calling card for a 6-3 guard, became a little more important. But instead of being overwhelmed, Davis made a flawless transition by thinking simplisticly.

"I'm just blessed with that," Davis said. "I can time when people are going to shoot the ball. I just have this instinct and try to time it perfect almost every time. It's natural and I try to get every ball. You can't score without the basketball. I try to get every rebound and stop them from scoring every position. It just happened. I blocked a couple of shots but it wasn't like seven or eight; it just happened."

With the size, came the expectations to play inside and a strange new world with new terms and moves to learn. Instead of driving to the hoop, he locked in on rebounds. He went from jump shots to hook shots.

"Some of the shots I didn't know how to do," he said. "Some of the things I'd never heard of, because I used to play on the perimeter, I'm used to it now."

Dobbs It makes the game a whole lot easier. Rebounding, blocking shots and shooting over guys. If you're 6-3, when you go in the hole you're going over guys and getting your shot blocked. When you're 6-10, you can go up and dunk on someone.

-- Anthony Davis
He picked things up kind of quickly and earned the NBA Top 100 Camp's 2010 most outstanding prospect award.

"He knows the language of basketball," Davis' father said. "He listens well and catches on quick. He has a lot of knowledge. I remember one coach said he would start talking about something and Anthony would finish his thought. That coach said he was going to be great because he has a lot of knowledge of the game."

Davis went from off the radar to center stage

"It's completely amazing and even more amazing when you think that even last year in high school he had at least one 50 point game," Brian Stinnette, publisher of ChicagoHoops.com, told ESPN. "But the high school that he plays at is so far off the radar as far as basketball. I hadn't seen Anthony Davis since the 8th grade in one of my middle school showcases. He was there and I remember him playing, but he was a big, 6-foot kid with thick glasses. He was out there against Wayne Blackshear and all those guys. That was the last time I'd seen him play.

"Then, he's at Perspectives and the growth sprut happened so quickly no one could get accurate with the height because every time you heard of him he was a different height."

But his stock was seemingly growing as quickly as his height. Just like that, on a national stage, Davis went from thinking about steals to shot blocks. He switched from Steve Nash dribbling drills to the Mikan Drill. Everything was new to him, but he never let on that he was learning most things for the first time.

"Before I didn't ever go into the post," Davis said. "Over the summer and during workouts, we go over a lot of post moves. That has to be incorporated into my game because of how tall I am."

During the summer of 2010 while playing with Mean Streets on the AAU circuit, Davis cemented his standing in the world of amateur basketball. Without Mean Streets, there's no NBA Camp invite, no Nike Skill Camps and maybe no national buzz. Davis was the hottest name on the circuit. The news wasn't good for Cleveland State, his lone in-season scholarship offer.

But Davis learned quickly that size has its advantages.

"It makes the game a whole lot easier," he said. "Rebounding, blocking shots and shooting over guys. If you're 6-3, when you go in the hole you're going over guys and getting your shot blocked. When you're 6-10, you can go up and dunk on someone. To also have the ability to shoot the ball, I'd rather be 6-10."

As the weeks from May through July rolled on, the buzz grew. Davis began collecting offers from programs and coaches who hadn't even seen him play. Syracuse was credited as being the first major college team to offer. Ohio State, by virtue of school-sponsored trip, had Davis on its campus. Word leaked out quickly that Davis was not only an elite prospect but a character kid with excellent academics. The entire recruiting process took off.

Davis narrowed his college list at the beginning of July down to Kentucky, Syracuse, DePaul and Ohio State. Weeks later, he picked Kentucky. Calipari, like every other major coach in America, saw him on the national stage for the first time at the King City Classic, ironically held on Cleveland State's campus. It only took one look for everyone in the country to see what the hub-bub was about.

He's 6-10 and still growing. How tall will he be by the time he arrives in Lexington? How tall will he be once he leaves Lexington? Will he be 7 feet when David Stern calls his name?

This is all new to Davis, but he holds a major advantage over elite players such as Austin Rivers, Bradley Beal, Quincy Miller, James McAdoo and Michael Gilchrist. He didn't have to grow up under the micrscrope or be saddled with outside expectations. He's been able to improve in a short period of time and stay humble. He's enjoying the ride and grateful to be on it.

"It's just great overall," Davis said. "To be in the position I am now, a lot of people want to be in this position. I'm not taking this for granted at all. "

As for Rivers, Beal, McAdoo, Gilchrist and Miller, those aren't merely ranked players he's heard of from websites. They are the elite company he keeps, and if he continues to average 39 points, 18 rebounds and 9.5 blocks he just may outgrow his No. 2 ranking in the Class of 2011.

Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at espndt@gmail.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.