NCAA Tournament

Jay Bilas: Anthony Davis lives up to early potential

UK's Anthony Davis made the "3 goggle" after making a 3-pointer as the the University of Kentucky played the University of Florida in the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fl.,  Sunday, March 04, 2012. This is second half men's college basketball action. UK won 74-59. Charles Bertram | Staff
UK's Anthony Davis made the "3 goggle" after making a 3-pointer as the the University of Kentucky played the University of Florida in the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fl., Sunday, March 04, 2012. This is second half men's college basketball action. UK won 74-59. Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

As an instructor at a Nike Skills Academy, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas first became acquainted with Anthony Davis. It was a vivid introductory moment.

"I was standing under the basket and saw a pass headed right at my head," Bilas recalled Tuesday. "I was just ducking when all of a sudden two big hands come out of nowhere and grab the ball like it was tossed. I mean, this was a bullet, and I was sure it was going to hit me."

Davis caught the ball and scored.

"Holy (Toledo)," Bilas recalled thinking. "That was one of the best catches I can remember."

Davis continues to impress Bilas, and everyone else this season, for Kentucky. The latest evidence came Tuesday when the United States Basketball Writers Association named him its National Freshman of the Year.

During the Southeastern Conference Tournament last weekend in New Orleans, Davis credited his good hands to growing up as a guard before the well-chronicled growth spurt in high school made him a big man.

"When you're a guard, you're going to have great hands," Davis said. "Most 'bigs' will not have great hands. That's a great attribute I have. It really helps, especially when they throw lobs or quick passes. To be able to catch it and finish around the rim."

It's hard to remember a lob Davis fumbled this entire season.

Bilas touted good hands as a key ingredient for any basketball player.

"Possession of the ball is everything," the analyst said. "When he can get near it, he keeps it."

In the first of two summer camps he worked with Davis, Bilas knew of the player. But he had not seen Davis play. Aside from saving Bilas from a catching a ball with his head, Davis made an immediate basketball impression.

"What jumped out — the skill level at his size," Bilas said, "and how he could impact the game in so many areas.

"He wasn't a spectacular player. It's not like he jumped out at you like LeBron James. It was more subtle than that. He made pretty subtle plays."

Davis might block a shot and retrieve the deflection. Or get an offensive rebound because he was moving and active.

"So many good things that impacted the game that didn't require him to blast off a pick and roll or have a play run for him," Bilas said.

Bilas also noticed how Davis could influence play at various spots on the floor. Or go from spot to spot quickly. Bilas recalled Garry Maddox, a ball-hawking center fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1970s and 1980s.

"People used to say two-thirds of the earth is covered by water," Bilas said, "and one-third by Garry Maddox. I kind of feel that way with Davis on a basketball court. He can take away three-point shots and still get back and block a shot around the basket."

In the last week or so of the regular season and then again in the SEC Tournament, Davis began showing a face-the-basket game. Bilas saw that kind of range the last two summers. "I think he's just scratching the surface," Bilas said.

Davis acknowledged at the SEC Tournament that his post game needs work.

"I think if I'd been tall from the beginning, it would be harder right now to dribble and shoot the ball," he said. "But maybe I'd be a much better post player if I hadn't grown that much in such a short period of time."

During the Skills Academy sessions, Bilas noticed how willing Davis was to learn.

"If he was asked to do something, he did it," Bilas said before adding, "and that's not the norm anymore. Kids want to know why, and he doesn't. He's a little bit like a throwback. He listens and keeps his mouth shot."

Davis credited his parents.

"Very strict," he said. "I was always taught to be on time for everything. Be early! Before practice, I'm always early, whether it's to put extra shots up or whatever the case may be. If you're just on time, you're actually late.

"I try to be on top of everything."

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