It wasn’t hard for Chicago’s Anthony Davis to explain why he thought Kentucky was the best place for him to play college basketball.
“They have a nice basketball program, produce a lot of NBA players, and coach (John) Calipari and his coaching staff is just awesome. They teach you a lot, and I will have a chance to reach the next level by going to Kentucky,” said Davis, a 6-10 forward who is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 senior by Scout.com
“I am very happy to have signed with Kentucky. It was good to get it out of the way so I concentrate on my senior season and try to help my team the best I can. I will worry about college now when I get there.”
Davis readily agreed that part of his recruitment in recent months was spoiled by reports that his family had asked for cash incentives from schools recruiting him, allegations the family denied.
“There were a lot of things that I did not get a chance to do or enjoy because of all that was going on. I tried my best not to think about all that was happening or being said. I just kept my mind on the court. I did not stress and think about it,” Davis said. “I can enjoy everything a lot more now.”
Davis averaged 30 points and 12 rebounds per game for Perspectives Charter in Chicago last year. Davis went from a relative unknown a year ago to a big-time player when he grew about six inches in less than a year, and his versatility allows him to be a terrific shot blocker, a trait Calipari certainly likes.
Vinay Mullick, the school’s athletics director, calls Davis a “high academic achiever” with a 3.30 grade-point average.
“He’s bright, sees the big picture. He knows as much as basketball plays a huge role in his life, he knows his life is not only about basketball and his parents have done a great job enforcing that,” Mullick said. “His dad and mom have been great roles models. They believe in academics before athletics.
“At times our basketball program has gone through growing pains. Our boys have to ride a bus to and from practice almost every day for four or five months. We now have a stabilizing, strong foundation and Anthony has been a key component of that. We also have a solid coach (Cortez Hale) who is building that solid foundation and Anthony has certainly helped.”
Mullick isn’t sure everyone understands how extraordinary Davis’ story is. Perspective is a network of five charter schools with no selective enrollment. “We do a lottery if the amount of applicants exceeds our availability. It’s a straight lottery with no academic or athletic preference,” Mullick said. “Anthony has been with us since seventh grade. His twin sister goes to school here. His older sister did. We have 350 kids in grades 6-12, and about 18 in the high school. There’s no gym, no locker room.
“What is phenomenal is that his family believes in academics so strongly that they enrolled and kept their children with us. Our athletics are up and coming, and Anthony is a big piece of that, but we still rent local gyms for practice and games. This year we only have four home games. The rest are on the road, but he’s stayed with us.
“Students do not come to our school to be superstar athletes. They come because they want an alternative choice to neighborhood schools. We’ve been fortunate to have Anthony Davis because he truly is an extraordinary student and athlete.”
Davis didn’t always project to be an extraordinary athlete, not as a 6-3 guard. That changed when he grew and blew up on the AAU circuit last spring.
“I never dreamed of this at all. I thought once nothing would go right for me,” Davis said. “I started getting noticed in June. A lot of people were calling for interviews. Things really changed. It was kind of good for me and I took full advantage.
“I had always had to play on the perimeter. I had to play guard and had guard skills. Now that I have grown, it is easier for me to handle the ball and do things most big men can’t do. I still need to work on my ballhandling and shooting even more, but I can put the time in to get better.”
Even when he was not as tall, he still often had to play inside because of his school’s personnel.
“In high school I had to play post kind of on our team. I kept pushing to get stronger and better,” Davis said. “A lot of people are saying now I am not strong enough to hang in the post. I use that as motivation for college and try to use that to my advantage. I have size and length. I know I can hold my own in the post.”
It’s the same when it comes to academics, despite his prolific sports career.
“I kind of balance athletes and academics out,” Davis, who will play in the FlyintotheHoop Classic in Dayton, Ohio, in January, said. “I know I am always a student first whether I have basketball or not. I always try to keep my grades in check. I always thought it would be academics, not athletics, that hopefully would get me to college. So I know I can’t always rely on basketball and that I have to use academics to my advantage. I could suffer a life-long injury and not have basketball. That’s why I know academics are so important.”
However, he also knows how important basketball is in Kentucky.
“Big Blue Madness was real nice when I visited. I expected it to be kind of crazy, but not that crazy,” Davis said.
He paid even more attention, though, to last June’s NBA draft when UK had five players picked in the first round.
“That draft caught my attention. Coach put five players in the draft. That was a very excellent job and shows they are doing something right. That was pretty impressive and was a big plus for Kentucky,” Davis said.
He was also impressed with UK’s other signees — Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer — in Kentucky’s No. 1 class that Calipari put together.
“I did pay attention to it. It was motivation. I think people will like to see us play together. That just made it even better for me when I was thinking about my college choice. We will have other stars to come out and produce and nobody will have to do everything. I really liked that,” Davis said.
***Go to http://flyintothehoop.com/ for ticket info, event schedule and players to watch and more.