UK basketball notebook: Anthony Davis compared to a short list of stars

Herald-Leader Staff WriterFebruary 11, 2012 

Kentucky Wildcats forward Anthony Davis (23) put in a jumper over Florida Gators forward/center Patric Young (4) as #1 Kentucky defeated #7 Florida 78-58 on Tuesday February 7, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

To measure the impact made by Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis, learned basketball observers go back decades to find a comparable player.

Hall of Famer Dick Vitale, the Pied Piper of college basketball, cited a player in the 1980s.

"He's special in how he affects the game," Vitale said of Davis. "He's the only player I've seen going back to Patrick Ewing that affects the game without scoring a point."

Another ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas, cited a player from the 1990s.

"He is the best big guy college basketball has seen in a while, several years," Bilas wrote in an email. "I liken him to a more skilled Marcus Camby. He is a game changer defensively that can block shots around the rim and block perimeter jump shots."

At this stage of development, Davis outshines Camby, Bilas said.

"He is far better than Camby at that age, and far better offensively than he is showing now," Bilas wrote of Davis. "He can shoot the ball but doesn't right now. ...

"Davis is just scratching the surface of how good he can be, and he is going to be good offensively. He has great hands and a really nice touch and shooting stroke. Just a wonderful player and talent.

Davis has already set a record for blocks by a freshman from a Southeastern Conference school. The league record of 170 — set twice by Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State — is well within reach.

While Davis' average of 4.8 blocks is slightly smaller than the national leaders the past two seasons (William Mosley of Northwestern State last season and Hassan Whiteside of Marshall in 2009-10), he's doing it against higher-caliber competition.

By the way, the NCAA record for average number of blocks in a season is 6.43, set by Adonal Foyle of Colgate in 1996-97.

Many opponents have tried to keep a body on Davis.

"You can be physical with Davis, but he is stronger than he looks and tougher than people might expect," Bilas wrote. "He is, by a fair margin, the best prospect in college, and the best big man in the last few years. He is a special talent."

Vitale speculated about Davis sweeping the major national awards: Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and All-American. Dreaming big, Vitale then threw in Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

"That'd be the super six," he said.

Vitale suggested that Davis' major competition for Freshman of the Year probably would be UK teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

"When I said that, I got a tweet from Kidd-Gilchrist," Vitale said. "It said, 'The best is Anthony Davis.' "

SEC tickets

Throughout the SEC, it's well-known that Kentucky fans are on the prowl this time of year. They are in search of SEC Tournament tickets, and they're willing to go to great lengths to get them.

"We have some Kentucky fans buying season tickets," said Wesley Owen, an assistant A.D. for ticket operations at Mississippi, "and some make donations." Ole Miss requires a minimum donation of $50.

Tim Cleary, an assistant A.D. for ticket operations at Georgia, said the same thing. At Georgia, that's $225 per season ticket, not including the required donation of $150 per seat.

So how do officials at other SEC schools know that these are Kentucky fans seeking tickets? It isn't hard.

"We always have calls in the hundreds about whether we will be selling public tickets for the tournament," said Lance Grantham, director of ticket operations at South Carolina. "Eighty percent are from the 859 area code."

UK fans make no secret of their favorite team.

"They'll tell us," Owen said, "and tell us what they will do to get them and (say) they're from Lexington."

Added Cleary: "There's very little effort on their part to hide it. They say they've tried every other avenue."

Cleary said UK had contacted each of the other SEC schools to ask about taking any available SEC Tournament tickets.

"I don't know if (UK) could ever meet the full demand," he said. "... To me, it's comparable to our football."

Georgia gets about five or six calls a day asking about SEC Tournament tickets, Cleary said.

Upon offices reopening after the holidays, Ole Miss officials had to field about 40 calls and 10 to 20 emails, Owen said. "I imagine every school gets that."

Grantham had no particular story to explain Kentucky fans' search for tickets. "It is more of an ongoing — 'I know the UK fans will start calling about this time of year' — buzz in the air," he said.

Ole Miss usually sells between 200 and 300 SEC Tournament tickets to Kentucky fans, Owen said. But with New Orleans relatively close (six-hour drive from Oxford), and an entertaining city, Ole Miss sold out its allotment this year.

"I think it's great," Owen said of UK fan interest. "I think it shows commitment."

Big shot Bob

Freshman Austin Rivers' three-point shot to beat North Carolina Wednesday prompted several people to ask Duke radio play-by-play man Bob Harris a question.

"I've been asked probably a dozen times already since that night: Where does it rank?" Harris said Friday.

As UK fans know all too well, Duke has enjoyed plenty of buzzer-beating moments. But, as expected, Harris picked the shot by Christian Laettner to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional finals as the most memorable he's seen.

Laettner also has the second-most memorable buzzer-beater: to defeat UConn in a 1990 regional finals.

"Both Laettner shots sent Duke to the Final Four," Harris said. "Because of that, Laettner's shots are No. 1."

Not to say Rivers' shot will fail to resonate.

"Because it was North Carolina, it carries a lot of weight," Harris said. "It didn't send us to the Final Four, but it might propel Duke to greater things. Who knows? We'll find out more (Saturday against Maryland)."

'It's a mind-set'

The last time Dick Vitale saw Terrence Jones in the flesh was at Indiana. Jones' non-performance in that game puzzled Vitale.

When Vitale worked the Florida game last week, Jones was coming off three straight double-digit scoring games in which he'd made 18 of 32 shots and 18 of 20 free throws. He'd also grabbed 21 rebounds in that span.

"He's got loads of talent," Vitale said of Jones. "It's a mind-set. All John (Calipari) wants is aggressiveness."

Thursday-Saturday

SEC basketball consultant C.M. Newton doesn't have much sympathy for coaches who lament the Thursday-Saturday tandem of games in a week.

"Coaches can't have their cake and eat it, too," he said. "They want the TV exposure."

True enough.

As for playing two games in three days, Newton noted that that used to be the norm. When he coached for Alabama, the SEC played games on Saturdays and Mondays. That could mean, say, playing at Tennessee Saturday and at Kentucky on Monday.

"The schedule these guys have pales in comparison to playing everybody home and home," Newton said of the league's former double round-robin schedule.

Earlier this season, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings complained about the Thursday-Saturday tandem. But he didn't say this tandem was too strenuous. He said it was unfair that one SEC team (Kentucky) could play a quarter of its league schedule against opponents playing a second game within 48 hours while another team might not have any such opponents.

Subsequently, SEC associate commissioner Mark Whitworth said he'd be surprised if the league did not consider limiting the number of times a team gets to play an opponent coming off a game less than 48 hours earlier.

Rivalries

A sportswriter from the Columbia Missourian called last week. He was working on a story about potential new rivals for Missouri as it joins the SEC next season.

Fresh off perhaps the last Missouri-Kansas game, he wanted to know whether a Missouri-Kentucky rivalry could blossom?

Simple answer: Beat Kentucky a few times. Better still, enjoy beating Kentucky. That ought to do it.

Rivalries within the SEC come and go for Kentucky. UK-Tennessee has only for the Vols to become a worthy opponent. Dale Brown made UK-Louisiana State a rivalry for a while. In the 1960s, Babe McCarthy made Mississippi State a rival. When Nolan Richardson was coach, Arkansas playing UK served as a warmup for the Super Bowl for a few years.

It's a testament to Billy Donovan that Florida has remained the "opponent" in the CBS regular-season finale.

With UK looking to drop a traditional non-conference rival (probably North Carolina) to lighten the schedule burden, the desire for a new rival surely is not high.

Poster-ized

Reader Hank Bassett sent an email expressing his disappointment that UK distributed the Anthony Davis poster only to fans at last week's Florida game. He said he wanted to "give voice to those of us out here that aren't the 'fat cats' or the very fortunate who attended (the game) and were able to walk away with a poster of Davis that is an obvious keepsake.

"I can already picture having it framed and hung on my office wall?

"Why would UK do this 'special favor' to just the 24K fans attending this game? What about the several million of us out here that can't afford to make the game? Are we supposed to buy ours via eBay for $50 to $150??? Further, I understand they printed 30K of them — what happens to the other 6K?"

UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy said those extra posters were designated for "media, donors, etc."

Later in the week, UK spoke of issuing a cease-and-desist order to fans looking to sell Davis posters.

Bassett, 64, grew up in Monticello. He worked in the family limestone business before becoming Business Manager/Slow Pitch Softball Division for Louisville Slugger for the past 20 years.

Fashion statement

When UK promoted the Nike brand, er, wore so-called "platinum" uniforms in the game against Tennessee, it wasn't the Vols' first experience with basketball as fashion statement.

Tennessee and three other teams wore blue shoes at the Maui Invitational as part of a promotion by adidas. Kansas, UCLA and Chaminade also wore the so-called "Crazy Light" shoes.

The blue shoes were intended as a tribute to Hawaii and the tropical water offshore.

An adidas spokesperson said sales of the shoe spiked after the Maui Invitational.

Happy birthday

To former UK players Ray Edelman (60 on Valentine's Day), Josh Harrellson (23 today), Winston Bennett (47 last Thursday) and Leroy Byrd (49 yesterday). ... To Andy Dumstorf, who made headlines as a UK student almost 30 years ago for being fired by the Athletics Department. Official reason for his dismissal: Being a Louisville fan. He turned 48 on Saturday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.comTwitter: @JerryTiptonBlog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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