UK Basketball: Anthony Davis enjoying Olympic experience, wants to win gold medal
Kentucky¿s Anthony Davis says playing with players like, from left, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant and others on the Olympic team had him ¿scared and nervous¿ initially but now he¿s adjusted to the point he¿s comfortable playing the way he can with them. (AP Photo / July 24, 2012)
He had no idea then that instead of having to wait until 2016 to potentially achieve that goal, he would be getting ready to play for the United States in London along with some of the NBA’s biggest stars with a chance to win a gold medal now.
“I never even thought about that. Not at all,” said Davis during a phone interview Monday after the team finished practice in Barcelona in preparation for today’s exhibition game with Spain. “This is a great opportunity to come out here and try to win a gold medal with a great team. I am trying to take full advantage of this opportunity. I am learning something new each and every day. These players are teaching me a lot and giving me great advice about the game. Hopefully we will be playing for the gold medal Aug. 12 and will win that game.”
In less than four months, Davis has led Kentucky to the national championship, swept most of the top individual honors in college basketball, been the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike and made the Olympic team thanks in part to an injury to Blake Griffin’s injury.
“It has been hectic, but not overwhelming,” Davis, who was added to the team July 12, said. “It’s fun playing with these guys. They are so much fun to play with. They are teaching me the ropes. Just being around them off the court helps show me how to be a professional, how to greet the fans. It’s such a great opportunity for me.”
Davis averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks, 1.4 steals and 1.3 assists per game for UK¿last season and his 186 blocked shots were the most in Southeastern Conference history as well as the most ever by a freshman in college basketball. He had 20 double-doubles and set a UK¿freshman record with 399 rebounds. He also shot 62.3 percent from the field and 70.9 percent at the foul line.
Yet Davis admits he was a bit timid when he was invited to try out for the team and then join the team coached by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. He wasn’t quite ready to see himself on the same team with players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron¿James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Chris Paul and other stars.
“At first, I was scared and nervous playing with these guys. They are ones I¿looked up to. I was scared, holding myself back in practice and not doing things because I was in awe of playing with these guys,” Davis, who has played in one of the three exhibition games, said. “Now I am more relaxed and comfortable. I’m being myself more.
“I’m getting some minutes in games, performing better in practice, playing like I belong with these guys. It’s a lot of fun.¿It really is. The hardest thing is that you have to compete every second. These guys are all competitors and they compete very well even in practice. Plus, international ball is a lot different than what the NBA will be. It has been kind of difficult for me to pick up, but all the players are helping me out and telling me what to do.”
The one game Davis — who was hampered at the team tryouts by a sprained ankle — did get to play, his teammates liked what they saw.
“I thought he played extremely well, we really rallied around him as we rally around everybody else. But, particularly him because he's so young. It was a great opportunity for him and he played extremely well and played with a lot of confidence,” Bryant told USA Basketball after Davis’ 11-point performance.
If Griffin had not been injured, Davis would be playing in Las Vegas with the New Orleans Hornets summer-league team. He would have been playing more and learning coach Monty Williams’ style, but he knows he’ll learn even more on the USA team.
“I am talking to coach Williams and watching summer league games. I am checking what they are doing and what I¿need to do and how I will have to adjust when I get with the Hornets,” Davis said. “I am telling him what I think about this opportunity and what we need to get better at.
“I am going to come in with an advantage that most rookies are not going to have just by being around these guys. They’re teaching me what to do and what not to do. It gives me a great advantage going into the season. These guys are teaching me to play the game on a different level. They laugh and joke and have fun. But when they step between the lines, they’re different players. They’re animals out there. I learned that pretty quick.”
USA basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo is a Davis backer.
“He’s a terrific young player,” Colangelo told USA Basketball. “He might not play now, but who knows? In 2016, 2020, he might be on the team down the road. Having a chance to compete with these players, he will probably want to come back. He could be an important piece for the future.”
That would certainly suit Davis, especially since he feels former UK teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague and Darius Miller could blossom into potential 2016 Olympic players along with former UK stars like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight.
“We have the world championships in 2014 and Olympics again in 2016. I could play on both those teams. So could other Kentucky guys,” Davis said. “All of us are very talented players. I don’t see why there couldn’t be a lot of Kentucky guys on future teams unless they change the rules (with no player over 23 allowed) in the future.”
Davis says he is working now to make sure his family can attend the Olympics.
“It will be a great experience for them. They have never been to London, either,” he said. “I am anxious just to get to the Olympic Village and get a chance to be around all the other athletes. I want to see what the Olympics are all about, have fun and win the gold medal.”
Davis played against UK¿coach John Calipari in the exhibition win over the Dominican Republic — the team Calipari almost led to the Olympics — and the coach told him he would also be in London.
“He told me just to have fun and it would be great to see me in London,” Davis said. “A lot of the guys on the team are supporting me. It’s great to know they are still there for me.”
His new teammates have been just as encouraging as Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague, Jones, Lamb or Miller were last season at UK.
“Everyone on the team talks to me and gives me great advice about what I should have done if I¿mess up or pats me on the back when I do a good job,” Davis said. “They’ve been a huge help every day, just like the guys were last season.”
He’s not worried about playing time.
“I just want to go in when I¿get the opportunity, play and do things to help my team win,” he said. “I am not upset about not getting minutes (in exhibition games) that some people think I should.
“I am 19 years old. This is a great opportunity. I am not complaining at all about anything. Most players who are 19 will never be able to say they were even in this position. I am here to have fun and learn. If my time comes to get in the game, I will compete and play to my highest level. But I won’t complain about anything.”
He has no problems with Krzyzewski despite the UK-Duke rivalry.
“No, it’s not strange at all playing for him. He is a great coach. I have no problems with him.¿He is trying to win the gold medal. The rivalry between UK and Duke has nothing to do with this,” Davis said.
The non-stop grind he’s been through the last four months doesn’t concern him, either, even though NBA training camps will open not long after the Olympics end.
“I will take a break when it is over. I am young. If LeBron and Kobe at ages 28 and 30 can do it, I certainly can with fresh legs,” the former UK star said. “These guys come to practice some days and say their legs are killing them. Me, I am jumping all over. Me and Russell Westbrook are the youngest. I get plenty of rest and have plenty of energy. I don’t worry about any fatigue.”
He says if his team wins the gold medal, it will mean even more to him than winning the national championship did.
“Winning the gold medal in the Olympics, you are representing your country. It’s a great thing to represent your country. I really want to win,” he said. “You are representing the whole United States, not just one school. Winning the NCAA was fun and I loved Kentucky and the fans, but this is a whole different thing. This is for your whole country.”