LAS VEGAS – Anthony Davis woke up in Los Angeles on Thursday expecting to make his debut with the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday in the NBA's summer league. By late morning, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft was told he should start thinking about playing in the London Olympics instead.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin will not play for Team USA in this summer's Games after he suffered a cartilage tear in his left knee that will require surgery. Griffin returned to L.A. Thursday morning for an MRI after he awoke with swelling and discomfort in his left knee after colliding with Select Team guard John Wall in Wednesday's practice. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Davis is the only candidate available to fill the open roster spot.
Without much time to prepare, Davis scored nine points in nearly 10 minutes during Team USA's 113-59 victory over the Dominican Republic in Thursday's exhibition.
"I was excited. I finally got an opportunity to play," Davis said. "But I'm still kind of upset that Blake went down off an injury like that. I'm just trying to make sure he's healthy, make sure everything is well with him."
Davis had initially been cut from Team USA's final roster after he arrived to training camp with a sprained ankle. One of three players cut Saturday, Davis was named an alternate and added to the Select Team, which helped Team USA prepare in training camp. After Griffin experienced swelling in his knee, Team USA director Sean Ford called Davis about 10:30 a.m. Thursday to tell him to go to the airport and return to Las Vegas.
Team USA's players were told Griffin was sent back to Los Angeles, but they didn't know the severity of the injury until after the game. Guard Chris Paul, a teammate of Griffin's with the Clippers, said he planned on calling Griffin once he got on the team bus. Griffin signed a five-year, $95 million contract extension on Tuesday. He has had previous knee issues that caused him to miss his rookie NBA season and slowed him this past postseason. The Clippers expect Griffin to be ready for training camp.
"The first thing I want to know is if he is good and well," Paul said of Griffin. "That's my top priority. That's tough."
Colangelo said Team USA loses size, strength and experience with Griffin out, but he is confident in giving Davis the opportunity.
"He's such a terrific kid," Colangelo said.
Davis didn't play in the first half as Team USA coasted to a 50-27 halftime lead after Kevin Durant scored 21 of a game-high 24 points. With Davis still on the bench midway through the third quarter, fans started chanting, "We want the unibrow." Davis – and his unibrow – entered the game at the start of the fourth quarter.
Just before taking the floor against his old Kentucky coach, John Calipari, who is also coaching the Dominican Republic, Davis was given some advice by Carmelo Anthony.
"I just told him to go out there and just relax," Anthony said. "He was looking forward to playing summer league. I told him, 'This is way better than summer league.' I told him to go out there, relax, have some fun and don't think about it too much."
Davis looked like he was having fun when he was fouled after making a surprising 3-pointer. Three of his teammates rushed to the floor to help him up. Davis turned to the Dominican Republic bench and saluted Calipari – because Calipari didn't let him shoot 3-pointers during his lone season at Kentucky.
Davis also flexed to the U.S. bench after making a tough layup over two defenders. He made a quick offensive impact, but thinks his rebounding and defense will help him stay on the court. He is traveling with Team USA to Washington, D.C., where the next exhibition is Monday against Brazil.
"If you love this game, you're going to be nervous," Davis said. "But when you step on the floor just go out there and have fun."
Kobe Bryant thought Davis gained confidence against the Dominican Republic.
"He played extremely well," Bryant said. "We really rally around him. We rally around everybody else, but him in particular, because he is so young. It's a great opportunity for him to get a feel for the game."
Davis was named college basketball's consensus player of the year after leading Kentucky to a national championship last season. The NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player averaged 14.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.8 blocks for the Wildcats. Davis will be the first Team USA member coming from college since Christian Laettner at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Hornets coach Monty Williams has said he believes Davis will benefit more from being a role player with Team USA than the star of a summer league team. Calipari said Davis would benefit greatly from playing with 11 NBA stars and for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"I coached Derrick Rose," Calipari said. "And in one year, in this organization, Derrick Rose's game elevated. No question. Being around professional winners who all sacrifice for each other and have a commitment to getting better will push Anthony Davis' career ahead two years, in my opinion."
Griffin is the latest Team USA player to withdraw from Olympics consideration because of injury. Rose, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard and Chauncey Billups are all sidelined. James, who led the Miami Heat to an NBA title three weeks ago, said he isn't worried about getting hurt.
"You can get hurt doing anything," James said. "You can get hurt working out in the summertime as well. It sucks for [Griffin], and it sucks for everyone who has been hurt. You never want that to happen, especially in the summertime."
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