Sophomore Strong

by Krissy Harper / @CSNKrisHarper

During his one-year stint at Kentucky, Anthony Davis became a household name. Although standing with a slim 6-10 frame, Davis managed to set the Division I freshman record for blocks in a single season and was named National Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and was a consensus First-Team All-American.

Determined to not let his NCAA resume overshadow by his NBA career, Davis focused on what he does best heading into his rookie season.

“I am just going to come in and play defense. I know they are a defensive-orientated team,” said Davis of his newly renamed Pelicans squad. “I love to play defense and that’s what the coaches stress a lot, so due to my defensive ability I think we can do a great job defending guys. But at the same time you still have to put points on the board so we have to make sure we work hard every day and stay in the gym and just keep working.”

Although New Orleans finished with a 27-55 record, Davis averaged 8.2 rpg and swatted 112 shots in just 64 games played. Even with the weight of being selected as the No. 1 pick, Davis performed well under the pressure, saying, “I think Coach Monty took all the pressure off of me. He said to just go out there and have fun, go explore and just play your game, and that’s what I’ve been doing all season. Nothing is on me but he always tells me, ‘In a couple years it will be on you,’ but right now he just wants me to go out there and have fun. That’s what he has been trying to stress to the team and hopefully we can turn things around next year.”

“[We just need to] come together more. Learn how to handle situations better. But we are going to do that. You know we are a young team so that’s going to come with time. How to handle [situations] when we have the lead in the fourth quarter, how to maintain that by just playing solid basketball,” he continued. “We are going to have all of these things next year. Put guys around who know about those things as well so the coaches don’t have to stress about it and when we are out there on the floor having guys that can stress it because they have been in that situation before. Those are probably the main things we need to work on.”

Even with the precautions athletes take in order to endure such a long season, Davis suffered numerous injuries throughout his rookie campaign.

“Earlier in the year I suffered a concussion. After that I had a stress fracture in my foot and I missed 11 games. So I’ve just been everywhere you know; a lot of MRIs and a lot of X-rays so it’s been a whirlwind. A tough first rookie year but I had fun,” he said.

The most stressful injury Davis sustained would perhaps be the MCL scare during the fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings in mid-April, where he went down hard clutching his left knee. For an athlete who never had a “major” bodily injury outside of his concussion in November, Davis felt a slew of emotions as he waited on the doctor’s prognosis.

“It was scary for me. I didn’t know what it was. When they hear MCL, the first thing you think of is the knee, PCL or your ACL so I was scared.”

But as the final word came back, Davis felt immediate relief. And as he’s progressively moving through rehab, his hunger to return to the hardwood has grown exponentially.

“[Rehab] is coming along great. I actually got cleared to play,” Davis explained. “I can do whatever I want to. But it was just a sprain so I’ve been doing fine the last couple of weeks so I’m ready to get back out and start playing again.”

And that is exactly what he is planning to do soon. While catching the eye of coaches and scouts after playing for Team USA in the London Olympics last summer, Davis and teammate Ryan Anderson are expected to play in the Team USA minicamp scheduled for July 22-25 in Las Vegas.

Even though getting back to 100 percent is in the forefront of Davis’ mind, he continues to find other avenues to mentally prepare. During the Bulls-Heat Playoff series, Davis attended Game 3 at the Madhouse on Madison.

“I just wanted to come out, come to a Playoff game. I’m from Chicago and I wanted to get that Playoff environment or that feel of the Playoffs so when we get there everything will just fall into motion,” said and optimistic Davis.

And while discovering different ways to develop a competitive edge over one’s opponent is now his livelihood, Davis still believes supporting his former Wildcat teammate Marquis Teague, and other teammates for that matter, is still just as imperative. But his competitive nature still gets the best of him sometimes.

“Actually I’m not pulling for anyone. I’m pulling for the Pelicans,” he jokingly said. “But it’s good to come out here and watch [Teague] play. He has been through a lot. Played great at Kentucky and getting a chance to play here. So I’m just out here to support him and he is playing well so it’s good to see that. And I would do the same for any teammate that I’ve played with. Go out there and watch them play.”

The former No. 1 overall pick’s performance has translated well professionally—making the NBA All-Rookie First-Team and finishing second in Rookie of the Year balloting—and the next few years for his rebuilding team should be interesting once more essential pieces are added to the puzzle.

And by Davis feeling just as confident as he was in the beginning of the season, the sky is the limit. Davis feels poised on what lies ahead, saying, “We are going to be just fine next year.”

It’s only a matter of time before the power forward’s hard work begins to pay off. One blocked shot at a time.