NCAA Tournament

Kentucky’s Davis grows into top player

Kentucky’s Anthony Davis didn’t choose Perspectives Charter School in Chicago for its basketball program. Heck, the school didn’t even have a gym.

It was hardly the breeding ground for a future college player of the year. Besides, Davis, 6 feet 3 as a high school junior, was just another player in a city rich with major-college basketball prospects.

“It had a great academic program, that’s why I went there,” Davis said. “I didn’t go there for basketball. The academic program was great. They have a 95 percent rate of kids graduating and going to college, so my dream was always to go to college, so I decided to go there.”

But between his junior and senior years, Davis shot up to 6-10. And despite not having a gym to call his own, he became a Parade All-American last year and the top prospect in the country while playing for a school with an enrollment of about 350, counting those from sixth to 12th grade.

Davis’ next home court, Rupp Arena, is one of the shrines of college basketball, and as a freshman he helped lead the top-seeded Wildcats to the Final Four, where they will meet intrastate rival Louisville at 5:09 tonight in the semifinals at another sports palace, the Superdome.

It’s a long way from the Illinois Institute of Technology, where Davis’ high school team practiced and played its home games.

“I found it weird at first … what school doesn’t have a gym?” Davis said. “In the fire-escape plan, it said ‘basketball court’ on it, so that didn’t make sense … but we had to work with what we had.”

Kentucky’s John Calipari, like most every coach in the country, found his way to the ITT gym and found another Marcus Camby, the big man who led Calipari’s Massachusetts team to the 1996 Final Four after sprouting six inches between his junior and senior years in high school.

“I’ve been blessed,” Calipari said. “I’ve had two … Marcus Camby was 6-3, went to 6-10 in a year. Anthony Davis went from 6-3 to 6-10 in a year. So what you have is a guard-skilled, nimble player in a big man’s body. If there are any other young people out there who go from 6-3 to 6-10 I’d like another one. They are different, they are unique. Both of the guys I had were unselfish, great teammates, deferred to their teammates …”

Calipari was as impressed with Davis’ humility as much as he was with his ability.

“How many games did his team win as a junior?” Calipari said. “Six games. I think they won 11 his senior year … and the kid’s the best (player in the country) ….? This is crazy. When he won all the awards, he thanked his team. He said, ‘Guys, they just named me player of the year, and I want to thank all of you because this never happens if not for all of you.’ ”

Davis was selected player of the year by The Associated Press on Friday for his role in Kentucky’s 36-2 season. He led the Wildcats in scoring (14.3 points per game), rebounding (10.1) and blocked shots (4.6).

“What makes him unique and special is here’s a guy getting all these awards for player of the year,” Calipari said, “and for most of the season, he was the fifth-leading shot-taker on our team. Fifth.

“When I asked my team, ‘What do you to help us win when you’re not making shots?’ You think about him.”

Especially on the defensive end, where Davis was voted the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year after leading the nation with an SEC-record 175 blocked shots, an art Davis developed after he reached his current height in high school.

“My senior year in high school I started blocking shots,” he said. “Before, I wasn’t that tall, and guys blocked my shots, so it was kind of like revenge. You block my shot and I’m trying to block yours.

“It impacts the game very much. If guys come in the lane, they’ve got to shoot it over me, or I’ll alter their shots. Coaches change their game plans because of that.”

His teammates appreciate Davis’ dominance at both ends of the court.

“He does a lot for us,” said senior guard Darius Miller. “He does a great job of knocking down shots. He has a nice post game. He does everything for us. He makes the court open for us. People don’t want to leave him (or) he’ll get lobs.”

It’s no secret that Davis will follow John Wall (2010) and Brandon Knight (2011) as one-and-done Wildcats as he is expected to be the first overall pick in the NBA draft. Wall and Knight fell short of winning a national championship, though the Wildcats reached the Final Four last year.

Davis is determined to go out on top.

“I love my team,” he said. “We’ve accomplished many goals, but we have one goal unaccomplished, and that’s to win a national title. We go hard at practice, we have a great bond, a great chemistry.

“The one thing I’ll miss most about this team is knowing it will never be together again … unless Coach Cal said he’s trying to get us to the Olympics.”