By: Chris Dortch
SEC Digital Network
NEW ORLEANS - About a month ago, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari asked a question of his team.
“What do you do to help us win,” Cal said, “when you’re not making baskets?”
Anthony Davis answered that question in the NCAA championship game against Kansas on Monday night.
Most players put up a 1-for-10 shooting night and chances are good they’ve had a miserable game. But Davis isn’t like most players; in fact he may be the most unique amateur player in the game. How else to explain the fact he dominated Kentucky’s 67-59 victory having contributed a single made basket and four free throws to the cause?
The rest of Davis’ numbers pop off the box score: 16 rebounds, six blocked shots, five assists, three steals.
“I couldn’t care less,” Davis said, “if I’d scored zero points.”
Calipari knows that, but at halftime, he still felt compelled to offer a bit of advice.
“At halftime, I knew he didn’t have a point,” Calipari said. “Before he left the locker room, I said ‘Listen to me. Don’t you now go out there and try to score. If you get an opportunity, score the ball. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. You’re the best player in the building. So don’t worry.
“So he went out and shot I think the first three balls.”
“I was open,” Davis said.
“He was open,” Calipari said. “I know why you were open. You were 1 for 10. They were leaving you open.”
Actually, Davis’ offensive game has made remarkable strides as this season has progressed. Few pundits considered him a national player-of-the-year candidate in December when he was scoring most of his points on dunks. By February, after Davis had added a face-up jumper, a jump hook and a blow by to his repertoire, some conceded that Davis was a player-of-the-year candidate but still considered Thomas Robinson of Kansas was still the favorite.
By March, Davis had stockpiled enough POY trophies that there was little doubt — he was the best player in college basketball.
But just because Davis had added some punch to his game, his forte, his passion, is working the trenches, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots.
“He’s terrific,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, and then he said it again. “He’s terrific. Seeing him in person late in the season as opposed to early in the season, you can tell how much he’s improved.
“… He just impacts the game so much with his length, and he’s so quick. … For a guy to have six points — he controlled the pain there for a stretch, without question.”
Davis had an idea before the title game that his defensive handiwork, and not his ever-expanding offensive game, would be the key to Kentucky winning.
“I just told my team I was gonna defend,” Davis said. “I was gonna let my teammates do all the scoring.”
For his efforts, Davis, who worked over Louisville for 18 points, 14 boards and five blocks in Saturday’s national semifinal game, was chosen the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four.
Davis can squeeze that trophy on his mantle along with four national player-of-the-year awards, the national freshman-of-the-year award, the national defensive player-of-the-year award, etc. etc.
All that hardware also comes with another little side benfit: In June, Davis will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
A radio reporter from Charlotte, home of the Bobcats, asked this question in the postgame press conference:
“Everybody in Charlotte and throughout the great state of North Carolina would like to know if you’re considering coming out in the NBA draft,” he said.
Davis muttered the typical reply about having to consult with his coach and his family to determine the best move for him.
Calipari, on the other hand, is hoping the one-and-done rule that helped him win his first national championship will be rescinded immediately.
“I don’t think it’s a good rule,” Calipari said. “I hope we change it before this week’s out so these guys all have to come back.”