Kentucky's Davis relishes challenge of winning national title

Big man flashes potential at Camp

jtipton@herald-leader.comJuly 8, 2011 

AKRON, Ohio — To hear Anthony Davis, the ongoing debate about whether a freshman-oriented team can win the national championship is rehashing a settled basketball issue.

"Any team can go and win a national championship," he said Thursday at the LeBron James Skills Academy. "You've just got to work hard."

For a third straight year under Coach John Calipari, Kentucky will seek a national championship with a team largely dependent on first-year players. Davis, one of those players in 2011-12, saw inexperience as no disqualifier.

"If we work hard, we can be a national champion," he said. "It's all about work ethic."

As if to drive home the point, Davis had to prove his prowess against such stalwarts of the college game as Jared Sullinger and Alex Oriakhi. They were among the 20 college players serving as counselors at the LeBron James Skills Academy. Time is reserved each day for the college players to compete in drills.

To hear Sullinger and Oriahki, Davis more than held his own.

"He's going to be good," said Sullinger, an All-American as an Ohio State freshman last season. "He's not as strong as he needs to be. But he's strong enough to keep you honest. ... It should be special for him this year."

Oriakhi, a Kentucky nemesis last season as Connecticut's inside presence, echoed the sentiment.

"He's definitely stronger than he looks," Oriakhi said of Davis. "I definitely like his defense."

Davis, who is listed here as 6-foot-10 and 214 pounds, said he intended to work on his strength.

As slender as he is, Davis did not get overpowered by Sullinger and Oriakhi. He posted up and scored over his left shoulder against the more experienced big men.

In another sequence, Davis blocked the face-the-basket shot from Duke's Mason Plumlee. His repeated deflections of feeds for Miles Plumlee led the Duke player to hold out his hands in a plea for a foul call.

Davis noted that he might be UK's center this coming season or share the role with forward Terrence Jones.

"I might run the 'five,' he might run the 'five' sometimes," he said. "That depends on the matchups. That's all there is to it."

Among its many functions, the Skills Academy served to help prepare Davis for the role.

"I just know if you get lower than them, you can hold your ground," Davis said. "That's all I'm trying to do. Make them shoot over me and use my athletic ability."

When asked how the Skills Academy can help him improve, Davis said, "First of all, I need to get stronger. Playing against these guys, they're way stronger. They use their size. That's one of the main (things) I'm working on."

Before playing a game for Kentucky, Davis has attracted national attention in positive and negative ways.

A spectacular growth spurt made Davis the talk of the 2010-11 recruiting year. He said he was 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 beginning his junior year of high school. As he entered his senior year, he stood 6-10.

"It was crazy," he said. "Every time I looked, I had to buy new clothes (and) new shoes and everything."

In terms of basketball, the startling growth spurt made Davis a front-court player with backcourt coordination.

No doubt his status as a hot commodity led to a bit of well-chronicled speculation by the Chicago Sun-Times last summer. Citing hardly nothing more than speculation, the newspaper suggested that Davis' family had tried to negotiate a $200,000 deal for Davis to play at Kentucky.

"I'm really not worried about it," Davis said.

"I really didn't find out about it till I went downstairs to dinner. Someone said, 'Ya'll are on ESPN. They said you accepted money.'

"I instantly called my dad (and asked), 'What's going on?' "

His father, also named Anthony, said he would deal with the newspaper.

"That was it," Davis said. "I'll let him handle it. I didn't worry about it anymore."

Davis said he turned his attention to basketball and becoming a better player. In some mock drafts, he's projected as the first player selected in the 2012 NBA Draft.

"It was great," he said of the implication that a 2012 UK national championship is a now-or-never proposition. "But at the same time, I'm not even worried about that right now. I'm waiting for the college season to be over and (then) sit down and talk with my family and coaches."

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