NEW ORLEANS — Bill Russell, Marcus Camby. Tim Duncan ...
Freshman Anthony Davis revived the memory of several great college centers as he led Kentucky to Monday night's national championship game. According to two longtime basketball observers, those comparisons — though flattering — do not quite hit the mark.
"He is the first Anthony Davis," said columnist Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe. "I'm telling you, I can't compare him stylistically to anybody because he's better on offense than some of those shot blockers, and he's more graceful. He can put the ball on the floor. He can drive to the basket. He can bring the ball up the court, if he had to. He could! You know he could. None of the other big guys in question could."
After Davis scored 18 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots in UK's 69-61 victory over Louisville on Saturday, U of L Coach Rick Pitino mentioned Russell.
"When you're playing against Bill Russell at the pro level, you realize why the Celtics won 11 (NBA) championships," Pitino said.
Ryan, who is retiring after the 2012 Summer Olympics, covered the Celtics in Russell's last season of 1968-69. Though Russell led San Francisco to two NCAA Tournament championships, Ryan suggested Davis made a greater range of contributions.
"I look at the total package," Ryan said. "He's not like anybody who's ever been. Bill Russell, although he averaged 20 points, he had a very rudimentary offense. ... The kid's offense is broader."
Fran Fraschilla, one of ESPN's college basketball analysts, said that Davis could be likened to several of the sport's standout big men.
"Whether it's Tim Duncan's poise, Russell's shot-blocking, Pervis Ellison's scoring ability around the basket, Kevin Garnett's length and ability, you could spend all day coming up with comparisons to each part of Anthony Davis' game," Fraschilla said.
When Kentucky took the court against Kansas on Monday night, only two freshmen had been named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player: Ellison in Louisville's 1986 championship run and Carmelo Anthony of Syracuse in 2003.
Because of his long, thin body, and because John Calipari coached both, Davis draws comparisons to Camby. Again, Ryan covered Camby, who led Calipari-coached UMass to the 1996 Final Four.
"Camby had a nice turnaround jumper," Ryan said. "But he didn't have the breadth of skills anywhere at all that this kid has right now."
Taking a stab at an apt comparison, Ryan likened Davis to Arvydas Sabonis, a multi-skilled 7-footer from Lithuania who was largely unknown in the United States as a teenager.
"As a package, he doesn't compare to anyone," Ryan said. "He's the first Anthony Davis."
Davis won two awards announced by the National Association of Basketball Coaches: the Spalding Pete Newell Big Man of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year.
Earlier, Davis won national player of the year awards symbolized by the Naismith trophy, Adolph Rupp trophy, Wooden Award and Oscar Robertson trophy.
Of the latter, which was presented by the United States Basketball Writers Association, executive director Joe Mitch said, "I have to send the Oscar Robertson trophy home to him because it's so big."
Before he signed with UK, Terrence Jones famously — and in a halting voice — committed to Washington.
"I was confused and so terrified about what to do," he said Sunday of that two-part decision. "I just wanted to make the right decision."
After committing to Washington at a ceremony at his high school, Jones almost immediately let it be known he could change his mind.
"I told Coach Cal the second I got off the podium," Jones said. "I told him, it wasn't finished."
The eternal coach/reporter divide reappeared when New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Peter Finney reflected on his career. He joined Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News and Tom Cushman of the San Diego Union-Tribune as United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame inductees for 2012.
"Listening to coaches lie, it's so invigorating," Finney told a breakfast audience of mostly sportswriters. "They're so nice."
As a member of the class of 2012, Reggie Miller joined sister Cheryl Miller in the Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday.
"I'm glad I'm still on her coattails being dragged all the way to Springfield," he said.
Another member of the Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2012, Ralph Sampson, noted how the formal induction ceremonies, Sept. 6-8, will prove to his children that he was a good player.
Noting how skeptical children can be of their parents' abilities, Sampson said, "All they know is you had high socks and short shorts."