UK basketball

Anthony Davis is like Marcus Camby with a head start, Calipari says

But coach says Cat has leg up on UMass star

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 1, 2011 

ANTHONY DAVIS

Anthony Davis might be an inch shorter than former Massachusetts big man Marcus Camby, but UK Coach John Calipari says the freshman is stronger and shoots better than his former star did at the same stage.

GUS CHAN — The Plain Dealer

At this ultra-early stage, Anthony Davis is further along in basketball development than John Calipari's former big-man star at Massachusetts, Marcus Camby.

Calipari foresees nothing preventing Marquis Teague from claiming his rightful place among the coach's star-studded parade of point guards.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can infuse a team with energy and urgency. Kyle Wiltjer brings the possibility of a European-style big man whose perimeter skills stretch opposing defenses.

In assessing another freshman-dependent Kentucky basketball team, Calipari had a familiar message for fans: Believe the hype.

Calipari's optimism came through loud and clear this summer even as he spoke from a hemisphere away. While coaching the Dominican Republic National Team in Argentina, he gushed about the latest No. 1 recruiting class to arrive in the Bluegrass.

"I'll be honest with you," the UK coach said when asked about comparisons of Davis to Camby. "Anthony is probably a little ahead, but Anthony is not as tall."

That was saying a lot, given that Camby led UMass to the 1996 Final Four, was the national college player of the year and sparked the Minutemen's stunning entry onto the basketball scene.

"Physically, ahead," Calipari said of Davis, who is listed an inch shorter than Camby. "Skills shooting the ball, ahead."

Camby's college career has receded a bit from the collective memory of fans, so Davis does not carry that particular burden of expectation into the season.

By contrast, Teague is saddled with weighty comparisons to not one, but four standout point guards. UK fans can recite the stars that quarterbacked Calipari's teams the past four years: Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis, then John Wall and Brandon Knight at Kentucky.

"Every one of them was different," said Calipari, who noted how he'll have to determine how best to bring out Teague's best. "I made Derrick score the ball more. He wanted to pass. Tyreke wanted to score. We made him pass the ball."

As for Wall, UK had to harness his speed, Calipari said. UK had to create openings on the perimeter for Knight, easily the best shooter of the group.

The UK coach speculated that Teague's niche might involve pick-and-roll plays, a maneuver ill-suited to the other point guards because it drew a second defender to the ball.

"He's physical to the rim," Calipari said of Teague. "That may be what we do with him."

Calipari scoffed at the notion that Teague might shrink from the challenge of following in the footsteps of such standout players.

"I think he's up for the challenge," the UK coach said. "I wouldn't have brought him here if I didn't think he was up for it.

"But it's not going to be smooth sailing. There's going to be ups and downs. He's going to turn the ball over. ... By the end of the year, you'll see another guy in that line who can really get it done for us."

Kidd-Gilchrist, a heralded prospect long before he committed to Kentucky, did not move Calipari to speak about points, rebounds or other tangible contributions. Instead, or in addition to mere statistics, the UK coach saw the freshman wing bringing a strong mentality.

"The biggest thing I want him to add to this team is a sense of urgency in practice, a work ethic in practice," Calipari said. "Just raise the intensity, the fire, the passion we practice with."

Kidd-Gilchrist comes to UK with a reputation for passionate play.

"I've never seen him go anything but absolutely all out," Calipari said. "What will happen is, he'll either take over practices or guys will try to step up with him."

Clearly, Calipari prefers the latter.

"Then it becomes a team on fire, an absolute team on fire," the UK coach said.

Calipari saw Kidd-Gilchrist as a prime candidate to supply the defense-first attitude provided by DeAndre Liggins last season.

As a strong 6-foot-7 player, Kidd-Gilchrist might be able to defend any of the five positions on the court at any given time, the UK coach said.

As for Wiltjer, Calipari spoke of a complementary player with the invaluable knack for making teammates better.

"He's got a great feel for the game," Calipari said. "His skill level is really ridiculous. It puts us at more of a European game, which I've always wanted to get. To be all long guys who can all put it on the floor and score. It opens up the court. Now, the court is huge because you can't leave anybody."

And if the freshmen make Calipari sound like a prophet, opponents won't be able to catch up to Kentucky.

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