UK basketball notebook: Davis possesses rare talent, NBA scout says

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 26, 2012 

Kentucky Wildcats forward Anthony Davis (23) jammed home an alley-oop in the first half as #2 Kentucky played Arkansas Little Rock in Freedom Hall on Tuesday January 3, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Earlier this spring, Anthony Davis became the first Kentucky player to win any of the major National Player of the Year awards, let alone all of them. In about a month, he'll follow John Wall as the second UK player in three years to be the first selection in an NBA Draft. Oh, and he led UK to this year's national championship.

Yet even all that achievement may not fully convey the sense of Davis as a transcendent player.

"A center only comes around every 25 years," said Ryan Blake, the NBA Director of Scouting. "Somebody like a Dwight Howard or a Shaquille O'Neal."

OK, Blake might have exaggerated a bit in a telephone conversation last week. Roughly speaking, once every 10 years or so a dominating big man emerges: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1950s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1960s, Bill Walton in the 1970s, Moses Malone in the 1980s, David Robinson and O'Neal in the 1990s, Tim Duncan and Howard in the 2000s.

But the larger point is that a player like Davis is not available in every year's NBA Draft. Only every so often is there a player of size who can impact a game without necessarily scoring much, as Davis demonstrated one more time in the championship game victory over Kansas.

"Although Davis is not really a center, he changes the game the way a center does," Blake said. "The way no one has done so in such a long time."

Blake lauded the intangibles that Davis possesses:

■ Maturity, which never shone more brightly that at LSU when Davis did not react emotionally to physical play or even a flagrant foul.

■ Playing "within himself." All season, college basketball observers suggested that Davis had a greater variety of skills than he'd displayed. Later in the season, UK Coach John Calipari lauded Davis for allowing the staff to guide his level of contribution.

■ Staying out of foul trouble. Although leading the nation in blocks, Davis rarely went to the bench because of fouls. Interestingly, Indiana's clever and talented Cody Zeller managed to get Davis in foul trouble in both UK-IU games.

■ Selflessness. As Calipari liked to note, Davis was content with several teammates shooting more often. Blake suggested that Davis' potential as a scorer made him an even more intriguing prospect.

With Davis all but guaranteed to be the first player taken in the 2012 NBA Draft, Blake recalled watching Howard as a high school prospect. Blake's companions, a group of nit-picky sportswriters, complained that Howard was not moving out on the floor, facing the basket and shooting jump shots.

"Why the hell do you want him out there?" Blake said he told the writers. "Just shut up, dudes. These guys don't come around that often."

'Safe pick'

Conventional wisdom suggests that a college player must have a truly great skill to be a prized NBA prospect. Be it shooting, rebounding, passing, defending. So what is that great quality for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?

"He grades so high because of his size," NBA Director of Scouting Ryan Blake said.

Blake noted Kidd-Gilchrist's combination of size (6-foot-7), athleticism, zeal and solid decision-making.

"He can only get better," Blake said. "He's got to become a better perimeter player. The consensus is he can become that.

"He's a safe pick in the lottery or even high lottery. The chances of him absolutely failing are so low, even if he becomes a 10-and-six guy (averaging 10 points and six rebounds), he'll still be able to maintain a lengthy career. You still get him pretty cheap."

UK views

Here's the 2012 Draft thoughts NBA Director of Scouting Ryan Blake shared on other former UK players entering this year's draft:

■ He lauded Terrence Jones' ability to contribute to Kentucky's efforts as a rebounder and shot blocker despite the presence of Anthony Davis.

"He's more versatile than you think," Blake said of Jones. "With a wingspan of 7-3, he plays bigger than his listed size."

Blake said that Jones needed to improve as a low-post player and show a more "consistent motor."

■ He labeled Marquis Teague as the "interesting one" among the many (six?) draft picks from UK this year.

Noting Teague's slow start to the season and possible loss of confidence, Blake said the UK point guard played better in the final stages of the regular season and in the NCAA Tournament.

Teague will need to improve as a perimeter shooter and execution of pick-and-roll plays, Blake said.

"He may get it quicker than we think," Blake said, "or he may not."

■ He noted Doron Lamb's shooting ability and team-first approach.

"He knows how to play both ends of the floor," Blake said.

While Lamb might be considered small for a NBA shooting guard, Blake said teams are playing two relatively smaller guards in the same backcourt.

■ He lamented the missed chance to see Darius Miller play in the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational. Miller correctly anticipated that he'd get an invitation to participate in the NBA Combine next month in Chicago.

Blake noted how Miller might be among the top six or so small forwards. Others in that group include Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes of North Carolina, Quincy Miller of Baylor, Maurice Harkless of St. John's and Jeffery Taylor of Vandy.

Moving day

UK plans to move the basketball team into the new Wildcat Coal Lodge later this week. The first phase of the move came last week with the transfer of furniture from old to new lodge.

The move marks a dramatic change in decor: From a ski lodge that contrasted with surrounding buildings to a building beige in color and benign in appearance.

Russ Pear, senior associate A.D. in charge of facilities and operations, said UK sought to have the Wildcat Coal Lodge blend into the Craft Center next door.

The Wildcat Coal Lodge cost in excess of $8 million to build, Pear said.

GPA

A few leftover notes from UK's release Friday of its athletic teams' grade-point averages for the spring semester of 2012:

■ UK basketball's team GPA of 3.12 compared favorably to the three other SEC teams that shared their GPA. The three were Florida (3.05), Tennessee (2.55) and Ole Miss (2.41).

■ In each of John Calipari's three seasons, the basketball team's GPA has improved from the fall to the spring semesters, which gives credence to the idea that players do better academically during a more structured athletic environment. That applied to Tennessee, which had a 2.37 GPA in the fall semester.

■ The overall GPA for Tennessee athletes was 2.94.

■ UK football had a GPA of 2.56. Tennessee football's GPA was 2.08.

Coalition

Leftover notes from a national faculty group, the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, issuing a statement last week questioning the priorities of UK basketball. One of the group's concerns is the potential alienation of academic and athletic spheres on college campuses, by the way, an issue that concerned former UK president Lee Todd.

The Coalition criticized UK Coach John Calipari's enthusiasm for neutral-site games, most notably expressed in the now defunct UK-Indiana series.

■ In stating its preference for college games played on college campus sites, the Coalition went so far as to urge potential UK opponents to refuse to play at neutral sites. Good luck with that, considering the revenue associated with made-for-TV games at neutral sites.

John Nichols, a retired Penn State professor and co-chair of the Coalition, acknowledged that his group wielded no authority.

"We have no direct power," he said. "But we have a voice because we do represent a sizable majority of faculty senates (on the Football Bowl Subdivision level). So we do have a voice. The NCAA does give us a seat at the table because they know we have a good sense of what the faculty feel."

SEC schools represented in the Coalition are Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

■ While the statement charged that UK basketball was designed to train players for the NBA, Nichols said the Coalition wanted to call attention to what it viewed as a growing "professionalization" of college athletics in general. To talk to Nichols was to get the idea that using UK basketball clouded the message.

"That is these folks are student-athletes, and these are truly college teams," he said, "as opposed to a fig leaf over a semi-pro team."

■ Nichols wanted it known that the Coalition is not anti-athletics.

"We're not that burn-the-stadium group," he said. College athletics have "great value" to participants, the student body, alumni and others. "A lot of good things happen in intercollegiate athletics, and we want to protect that."

■ When asked if the Coalition's statement on UK basketball generated feedback, Nichols said, "Oh yeah. We're getting some significant (feedback) from your state."

Tour guide

Kentuckian Robby Speer had been taking selected college players on a tour of China the past several off-seasons.

This year, the tour had new destinations: Belize this month and Brazil in August.

The trip to Belize involved a week of games and a shoe distribution, Speer said. The trip to Brazil will involve men's and women's teams.

Happy birthday

To Florida Coach Billy Donovan. He turns 47 on Wednesday. ... To former UK president David Roselle. He turns 73 on Wednesday. ... To former UK players Cedric Jenkins (he turned 46 on Friday) and Ed Davender (he turned 46 on Saturday).

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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