"I wanna see him dunk!" one kid yelps.
"He probably gonna be MVP next year," another declares.
Davis, decked head-to-toe in Nike Sportswear, stays mostly stone-faced throughout, but every few minutes he cracks a quick smile, a clear sign that he realizes the importance of his ability to enamor a group of random Chicago kids with only his presence. In an area where everyone knows at least a few people who are no longer with us, victims of the inner city's catastrophic violence, the effect a positive role model like Davis can have doesn't seem to be lost on him.
"[Those kids] definitely need someone to idolize and someone that they can look up to," says Davis, who grew up a Bulls fan obsessed with Michael Jordan. "It's unreal, because most guys had the fame since they were kids. Look at Austin [Rivers]—he was Doc Rivers' son, and then he became his own person. He's used to that. I'm still new to it. So when I hear kids say, I'm about to go play 2K right now and play with Anthony Davis, it's like, Man, it's still all surreal to me. I'll never take that for granted."
Minutes after the photo session at Meyering Park, during which Davis acknowledges his past by standing tall in front of a south side Chicago basketball hoop not unlike those he practiced on as a young child, he glides back into the gym to confront his future. He immediately changes out of the Nike sweats and into a Team USA jersey, posing for pictures in front of an American flag while clad in the same red, white and blue uniform he'll be wearing when he proudly represents his home country at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain this August.
Before he suited up for a single NBA game, Davis was a member of the 2012 Gold- winning USA Olympic team, earning the role as the token up-and-comer on a roster laden with established names like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Chris Paul. He says he kept his ears open during the experience, soaking in knowledge wherever he could find it. "I picked all of their brains," he says. "Kobe took me under his wing and told me, You're gonna be fine, just keep working. I was hanging out with him a lot, just trying to see who Kobe is and why he is Kobe. I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from all of those guys. Those guys just told me to go out there and be yourself. Have fun."
"Kobe took me under his wing and told me, You're gonna be fine, just keep working."
This summer, on a team that'll likely feature Davis and 11 other stars—a few of which will likely represent Team USA at the 2016 Olympics—AD will play a bigger role, one he's preparing for. "I just wanna get better, and I think USA Basketball is gonna help me do that for the upcoming season," he says. "I'm just excited to get started. I've been looking forward to this all summer. I didn't play as much in 2012, and I feel like I'm gonna be a key contributor to the 2014 team and go out there and do my thing. Guys don't get paid for playing USA Basketball, but it's a real honor, going out there and playing other countries with the mindset that we're not settling for anything less than Gold. That's what America expects and that's what we expect."
In addition to a few weeks with USA Basketball, Davis figures to have a productive offseason amidst his journey to become one of—if not the—NBA's best. When we get up with him in Chicago, he appears to have clearly put on some weight; per FOX Sports, he's already added the perpetually coveted 15 pounds of muscle this offseason. (Word to MUSCLE WATCH.) "I want him to be able to not just get big for the sake of getting big, but gain muscle that he feels confident with and that he can use and that doesn't have an adverse effect on his game," Daniel says. "The focus is staying in the game and using the muscle.