After leading the Kentucky Wildcats to their first national championship in 14 years, Anthony Davis will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the tradition-rich Kentucky basketball program.
But where does he rank among the great centers in college basketball history?
Simply put, at the top.
Compared to other great college and NBA centers, Davis’ freshman season is clearly the best. The impact he was able to have on every game, no matter if he was scoring, blocking shots or setting up his teammates, is virtually unrivaled.
But in looking beyond just his stats, the case becomes even clearer for why Davis is the greatest freshman center of all time.
He has mastered the intangibles and provides that extra spark that every team needs to succeed—a true measure of just how good Davis is will be next season when he is tasked with reviving a very dormant NBA franchise.
But until then, let’s relive what made Davis such a tremendous college basketball player.
Obviously, Anthony Davis is known for his shot-blocking ability. He blocked 186 shots in just one season, earning him a place in virtually every record book there is.
There were a grand total of five games last season in which Davis failed to record more than two blocks. Five! And he never blocked fewer than two shots in a game.
Davis did not just average 4.7 blocks per game, setting a Kentucky Wildcats season record, SEC record and SEC freshman record. He also altered far more shots as the cornerstone of his team’s top five defense.
So, if Davis scores 14 points per game and blocks five shots, that is roughly 12 shots per game. Say two of his five blocks lead to Kentucky run-outs on the other end of the floor. That’s another two shots that Davis single-handedly created.
Then add in the countless other shots Davis altered when opposing guards simply refuse to shoot in the paint or when big men throw up high arching prayers just to get the ball over Davis’ fingertips.
How many times did that happen in a game? Seven? Thirty-five? Unfortunately, no one kept track (although I bet those statistics would be mind-blowing).
Taking the low estimate of seven and the grand total of shots that Davis affects in one game comes to 21. Think about what an incredible point-swing that is every single game.
Name me one other freshman center that made that kind of impact on both ends of the floor.
With the uncanny ability that Anthony Davis has for blocking shots and the ease with which he comes by his rejections, keeping the ball in play is one of his most underrated abilities.
Almost never did Davis swat a ball so hard that it flew to the third row of the stands, automatically giving the ball back to the opposing team.
Instead, Davis perfected the skill of blocking the ball down, into the court, or even to a teammate so that the Kentucky Wildcats could hold onto the ball and the momentum.
One great way to judge a player’s commitment to the game and to winning is whether or not they make an effort to keep the ball in bounds with blocks.
Kevin Garnett, who practically bleeds winning, works hard to ensure that when he blocks a shot, the ball will not automatically go back to the other team.
Dwight Howard, on the other hand, swats almost every shot as far out of bounds as he can muster, eliciting a lot of oohs and ahs from the crowd, but not helping his team at all.
As Howard has shown this season, he has not matured enough to be fully committed to winning. His shot blocking is just one more way to expose his childish antics.
Davis, on the other hand, has honed his craft to a point where he can still make highlight reel plays, but can also benefit his team while doing so.
In Anthony Davis’ first game as a Kentucky Wildcat he scored 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked five shots and recorded three assists.
But believe it or not, he improved tremendously as the season progressed.
Throughout the first half of the season, Davis’ offense basically consisted of slamming home alley-oops and getting offensive rebounds.
Davis’ absurd seven-inch growth spurt before his junior year of high school was very evident, as he clearly had not had much time to learn a true post game.
By the end of his freshman year, though, he had a very pretty turnaround half-hook shot and an impeccable jumper.
Davis is a prime example of a player who has all of the tools, but just needs a little coaching to figure out how to use them.
Once someone finally taught him what to do in the post, he improved dramatically and became an offensive weapon for Kentucky.
Combine his new-found skills with his great passing ability and ball-handling skills and Davis turned into a multi-dimensional player in just a few months.
Instead of letting his impressive early-season showing lull him into simply going with the flow and not working on his game, Davis kept at it and improved throughout the season.
Anthony Davis won a national championship in his first year playing college basketball.
Sure, he had a lot of help, but without Davis, could the Kentucky Wildcats have beaten Indiana, Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State? Doubtful.
Davis was virtually the Wildcats only true inside presence and he quickly became a focal point for the opposition on offense and defense.
Yet he continued to thrive and came up big for Kentucky when the team needed him to.
He had three double-doubles in five NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games, dominating the paint on both ends of the court.
It is very difficult for a center to have such a large impact on a college basketball team. As Jared Sullinger, Greg Oden, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan found out, it is not easy to lead a team to a national championship as a freshman.
Carmelo Anthony was able to do it, but guards have an advantage because they can create shots for themselves and have control over when to set their teammates up or get baskets for themselves.
But Davis was able to play off of his teammates, make the most of his touches and still have a huge impact on the game.
No matter what the opposition threw at him, Anthony Davis always managed to keep his wits about him and stay involved in the game.
He found a way to make his presence felt by taking what he was given and never trying to do too much.
Take the national championship game for example. Has any other player won the MVP and failed to score more than 10 points? Davis finished with six points, 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals.
He simply could not find his shooting touch, but instead of getting frustrated or forcing shots, Davis simply played his game and found other ways to contribute.
And most importantly, Davis was able to play big minutes every night—he averaged 32 per game.
Especially for centers, staying on the floor can be a huge issue. The Kentucky Wildcats would not have had nearly the same success if Davis were only playing 25 minutes a night.
He averaged just two fouls per game, despite his defensive prowess. Davis never committed silly fouls and learned how to block shots without fouling his opponent.
Davis is such a unique player because he is not known for his scoring. When a player does not have to score to be considered great, it is a testament to the way they play the game.
No matter the stage, no matter the opponent, no matter the situation in the game, Anthony Davis never seemed rattled.
After making a huge block, he would never bang his chest and yell.
If he finished a beautiful alley-oop dunk, Davis would not say anything to the opposing players—he would simply run back down the court and start playing defense.
Davis understood the meaning of big games, but never appeared nervous or out of sorts.
The one moment he let loose was after Kentucky’s win over the Louisville Cardinals when Davis yelled, “This is my stage!” as the buzzer sounded.
Even coach John Calipari laughed at Davis’ sudden burst of emotion, telling reporters that Davis “didn’t know why he said that.”
Clearly, emotion is not Davis’ forte.
That is unusual coming from a freshman, playing a completely different level of basketball, especially in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
But Davis is not an average freshman.
By keeping his cool, Davis proved to be one of the most reliable players on Kentucky’s roster. He never had an off-night because he never allowed his emotions to dictate how he played his game.
Last but not least.
What other player could rock a unibrow with the same blasé swag that Anthony Davis brought to college basketball in 2011-12?
Sure, people made fun of Davis at first, but who was laughing last?
The entire state of Kentucky got in on the fad, creating “Fear the Brow” shirts and even unibrow masks that Davis’ mother was known to wear to games.
Seriously, though, could anyone else pull off a unibrow like Davis?
Most other players would give into the jeers and taunts and eventually shave it, but not Davis. He was probably too busy blocking shots or imagining posterizing his next opponent.
But one thing is for sure, whenever people remember Davis, they will undoubtedly remember his unibrow too