His status as the top overall pick was assured months ago, but on Thursday night the New Orleans Hornets made it official. Kentucky forward/center Anthony Davis was selected first overall in the 2012 NBA draft, just months after winning every prominent NCAA player of the year award as a freshman. The 19-year-old Chicago native was born just one month into Bill Clinton's first term as president, but he thrives on a defense-first throwback style of play that the Hornets think will anchor their frontcourt for years to come.
Davis, who entered high school as a 6-foot guard but left his first and only year at Kentucky as a broad-shouldered 6-10 center, averaged a double-double of over 15 points and 11 rebounds a game while playing for John Calipari's Wildcats. The high-flyer also tossed back 4.6 shots per game, a startling number that set an NCAA record for a freshman, and bodes well for the tough athletic transition between NCAA ball and the pros. He has drawn comparisons in the past to former Calipari big man Marcus Camby — but Camby wasn't nearly as advanced as Davis at Anthony's age, which is another encouraging sign considering that Camby has enjoyed a fantastic NBA career since leaving Calipari's tutelage in 1996.
The top overall pick wore a conservative but rather stylish gray suit on his way up to meet NBA Commissioner David Stern, who was booed loudly in the minutes before he put the Hornets on the clock prior to selecting Davis. Aware of his station already as a No. 1 pick, a humble but confident Davis mentioned attempting to act as a "team leader" while praising the talents of Hornets coach Monty Williams in his first interview as a pro — televised or otherwise.
The Hornets, rebuilding since a deal that sent All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers last December, have certainly cleaned house for their new stud.
Just last week the team sent center Emeka Okafor (the second overall pick in the 2004 draft) to the Washington Wizards, along with Trevor Ariza, for Rashard Lewis' soon-to-be only partially guaranteed contract and payroll relief. The team is not likely to re-sign former All-Star center Chris Kaman, and even restricted free-agent guard Eric Gordon is no guarantee to come back to the team. This is an all-out rebuilding process, clearly centered around Davis. Even the ownership group led by Tom Benson is new; as the Hornets were until this summer owned by the NBA for a year and a half in a partnership some found uneasy at best and illegal at worst.
These Hornets enter the offseason with a sterling coach in the defensive-minded Monty Williams and a young GM in Dell Demps that seems to have made it out of the NBA's wrong-headed stewardship of his team in one piece. Demps will be working with double-figure cap space, though after years of declining revenues and an iffy free-agent class it's no guarantee that he'll move into using that cap space right away. Especially with Davis' 20th birthday not set to hit until around the same time the 2012-13 Hornets are eliminated from the playoffs.
Davis has come off as a cheerful, well-adjusted sort in his few months removed from the last game at Kentucky. He's made waves for refusing to shave off his now-trademarked unibrow, and even (with tongue planted firmly in cheek … kind of) talked about wanting to apply his already formidable defensive abilities to any attack centered around stopping Kobe Bryant — a player that made his NBA debut when Davis was 3 years and 9 months old.
Faced with turning around a franchise that has yet to make it to the conference finals in nearly 25 years of play, he'll have to maintain that stoic resolve and quick smile.
Oh, and he'll have to watch the pump fake. Because 4.6 blocks per game doesn't mean a thing in the NBA, if you're on the bench with three fouls by the second quarter.
Welcome to the NBA, Anthony. We think you'll do well, here.
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