LEXINGTON, Ky. – Here is the inconvenient truth, America: When Anthony Davis is playing like this, everyone else is playing for second place.
In the SEC and in the nation.
Davis, Kentucky's freshman center, is making his national Player of the Year case one blocked shot, snatched rebound, alley-oop dunk and – breaking news – swished jumper at a time. He's doing everything now, just the way John Calipari envisioned when he signed the nation's No. 1 high school player. Davis very much looks the part of the top pick in the 2012 NBA draft.
"When you have a guy like that, they come along once in a lifetime," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said after watching Davis drop 18 points, eight rebounds, seven blocks and three assists on the Volunteers in a 69-44 drubbing in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. "He just changes the game for you."
Calipari disagreed with Martin, saying Davis is a twice-in-a-lifetime talent for him. He referenced Marcus Camby, who led Calipari's 1995-96 Massachusetts team to the Final Four. (A trip since vacated for extra benefits Camby received.)
The two have a lot in common, but Davis is darn near as good now as Camby was as a junior. Camby scored more points (20.5 per game to Davis' 13.5), but Davis is pulling down more boards (10 to 7.8) and blocking more shots (a nation's-leading 4.7 to 3.9).
The rejections are the true differentiating factor for Davis over everyone else in the college game. Martin called him the best he's ever seen in terms of interior defensive presence. His Volunteers can attest to the hopelessness of trying to get to the basket when Davis is in the game. They kept trying, and he kept swatting.
"He is a shot-changer," Tennessee guard Josh Richardson said. "The dude is like 6-foot-10 with 7-6 arms. If you get in the lane, you've got to go at him, but it's always going to be in the back of your mind that this dude is huge and he's probably going to block it."
[Forde Minutes: College basketball is ready to take center stage]
Even when opponents don't think Davis is going to block it, he often ends up blocking it.
"I think they think I can't get over there that quick," Davis said. "They think they've got a layup and I'll come out of nowhere and block it."
Davis' ability to cover ground with a stride and a leap clinched the game against North Carolina in December, when he blocked a John Henson jumper at the buzzer for a one-point victory. While the defensive presence has been constant all season, his offensive game continues to evolve and improve.
Davis opened the game Tuesday night with a 19-foot jumper. Then he fluidly finished a left-handed layup in transition. A couple of possessions later, he banked in a jumper from out front, then had a dunk. Less than five minutes in, he had eight points in a variety of ways and Kentucky led 12-2. School basically was out at that point.
"He's a special player," Calipari said. "And mainly because he's about his teammates. There are players out there [who are] really good players and all that, but their teammates don't want to play with them, don't like them."
Davis' teammates should love playing with a guy who doesn't pout when he isn't getting touches offensively and who can cover for perimeter defensive mistakes by creating a no-fly-zone at the rim. He took just seven shots Tuesday night, and attempted just six Saturday in a blowout of LSU. (He was 12-of-13 in those two games, by the way.) The most shots he's attempted as a collegian is 13, in his first game of the season against Marist.
"If you pass him up [in the offense], he doesn't get mad about it," Calipari said.
Nobody's mad about anything right now in Big Blue Nation because the Wildcats are dismantling opponents. They've recorded three consecutive blowouts, and it's now been 111 minutes and 11 seconds of game clock since the 'Cats last trailed, dating to a 14-13 deficit in the first half at Georgia on Jan. 24.
This is a young team that's figuring it out and locking in.
"We all just want to win a national championship," Davis said. "That's our goal, win a national championship."
This muscle-flexing run has intensified the title talk in the bluegrass, but here is a dose of reality: The 'Cats have had a ridiculously easy run of SEC opponents. They're 9-0 against nine unranked teams and have yet to play anyone in the top five in the league standings.
Combined league record of the nine victims: 16-37. And next up is mighty South Carolina (9-11 overall, 1-5 in the SEC).
The tests all fall in the final seven league games: two each against Florida and Vanderbilt, plus a visit to Mississippi State. So it doesn't figure to all be lob dunks and run outs and blocked shots the rest of the way.
But in order to beat No. 1 Kentucky, someone is going to have to conquer the kid in the middle. And good luck with that, the way he's playing now.
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- John Calipari
- Marcus Camby
- Cuonzo Martin