It’s been a frantic learning curve for the New Orleans Hornets’ center Anthony Davis, the top overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft. Being selected No. 1 is a huge moment in any young basketball player’s life, but the real sign that an athlete has made it –beyond just shaking David Stern’s hand– is when he’s called upon to represent his country.
As one of the final players cut from Team USA’s roster last week, the 19-year-old Davis was summoned back to Las Vegas last week to replace Los Angeles Clippers’ All-Star forward Blake Griffin, who suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee during practice. As Griffin joined Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose on the long list of players who were placed on USA’s injured reserve, Davis was inserted into the lineup last Thursday in Vegas– becoming the first player since Christian Laettner on the 1992 Dream Team to suit up for Team USA before making his NBA debut. The rookie scored nine points in ten minutes as the Americans routed the Dominican Republic national team –coached by Davis’ collegiate coach at Kentucky, John Calipari– 113-59 in their exhibition opener. It was a surprisingly efficient outing for Davis, considering he knew none of the team’s plays.
“It feels good to be the only rookie on the team,” Davis explained, after Team USA’s Blue and White scrimmage at the D.C. Armory during the World Basketball Festival. “It’s a great experience for me. I’m trying to get used to everything and trying to learn from these guys. They’re teaching me what to do and what not to do.”
It didn’t take long for Team USA’s 12th man to get acclimated with head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s system. As the clock was winding down in final minute of the blowout against D.R, Davis capitalized off of the Americans’ large lead and seized the opportunity to showcase his versatility. Spotting up from behind the arc, the 6’10 Davis launched a high arching 3-pointer that found the bottom of the net, while drawing the foul in the process. With his teammates cheering him on, Davis, who was floored by his Dominican defender, put up a three-point sign in celebration and proceeded to point at Coach Cal, taunting his former coach in good humor.
“I told Coach Cal he should have let me shoot it in college,” said Davis. “It was all in fun. He’s not used to losing like that…I think the last couple of years he’s only lost by a total of six or nine points, or something like that, so to lose to use by 54 was a shock for him. To beat the coach you just played for is fun and a great experience.”
Davis’ play in the fourth quarter of Team USA’s lopsided opener, provided a glimpse of what’s to come during the London games, and a glimmer of hope for fans back in the Big Easy. Because of a mild left ankle sprain sustained in a post-draft workout at the Hornets’ practice facility, Davis practiced just one day during the pre-Olympic training camp as part of the men’s select team that scrimmaged against the senior national team. After an initial scare and being designated as an Olympic alternate, Davis looks forward to helping Team USA defend its gold medal, and later, turn his Hornets into contenders.
“I’ve come a long way,” he admitted. “I’m looking forward to playing with Austin, Eric and the whole team. We’re going to work hard, and in a couple years, we’re going to be a great team.”