NEW ORLEANS – The jump hook wasn’t working. Neither was the dunk or the midrange jumper.
It didn’t matter.
Anthony Davis did everything else in Monday night’s national championship game against Kansas. Davis led Kentucky to its eighth title with a 67-59 victory at the Superdome with 16 rebounds and six blocks. He neutralized Kansas center Jeff Withey offensively, forced Travis Releford into airballs and opened up the lane for his teammates.
The All-Everything freshman from Chicago didn’t score until 15:30 of the second half – on a free throw. Davis finished with just six points, four on free throws.
“I really don’t care right now,” Davis said on the court after the game. “I could care less. I had zero points. I wasn’t mad. I didn’t care. We wanted to win.”
Davis’ 16 rebounds were the most in a national championship game since Ed O’Bannon’s 17 for UCLA in 1995. In addition to six blocks – which helped him set the NCAA freshman record for blocks in a season – Davis tied his career high with five assists and committed just three turnovers on a night when he made one of 10 shots.
To top it off, he was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player – just the fourth time a freshman claimed that honor.
“I love the fact that Anthony Davis goes 1-for-10 and you all say he was the biggest factor in the game. He was 1-for-10,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “At halftime I knew he didn’t have a point. Before he left the locker room, I said, ‘Listen to me, don’t you now go out there and try to score. If you have opportunities, score the ball. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. You’re the best player in the building.”
Davis missed his first two layups of the second half.
“I was open,” Davis said to Calipari during the postgame press conference.
The coach didn’t miss a beat.
“I know why you were open … they were leaving you open,” Cal responded to laughs.
Davis’ first field goal came with 5:14 left in the game, when Marquis Teague drove the lane and found Davis on the left baseline, wide open.
He stepped in and knocked down the 17-foot jumper just as he did as a 6-foot-2 shooting guard at Perspectives Charter School in Chicago.
Yes, Davis was 6-foot-2. Now he’s 6-10.
And yes, it happened practically overnight.
It wasn’t as easy as Tom Hanks growing up overnight in “Big” although Davis’ story came close.
Davis’ high school coach, Cortez Hale, remembered seeing Davis when school ended in June of Davis’ sophomore year. He was 6-2. When Hale next saw Davis it was for a summer league in late July that year and Davis was 6-7.
“I was just saying, ‘Wow,’” Hale said from New Orleans. “I looked at him and said, ‘Anthony?’ and he was like, ‘What’s up coach.’ I said, ‘What happened?’ and he said, ‘I just woke up.’
“And he did and he became 6-10.”
The growth spurt wasn’t actually that quick. Davis grew from 6-2 to 6-7 before his junior year and then from 6-7 to 6-10 before his senior year. He grew faster than Hale could buy uniforms.
But Davis took the growth spurt in stride, learning how to become a big man at the hands of Hale, who’s only about 6-feet tall himself.
Perspectives wasn’t a powerhouse in Chicago: The school only had about 400 students from sixth to 12th grades, and only about 220 in high school. Davis’ graduating class was just 28.
He won more games at Kentucky by Jan. 3 (14) than he had in his last two years of high school (13).
Davis was Hale’s starting point guard his sophomore year, then had to play all five positions his final two seasons – even at 6-10.
“He was my fourth assistant coach. He pretty much sold popcorn. He did everything I needed him to do,” Hale said.
All season Davis has showcased the arsenal of post moves Hale started teaching him just three years ago. Hale said Davis’ lone post move was a drop step. Everything else — a hook shot and an up-and-under move, to name a few – was foreign to Davis.
Once in a while this season, Davis flashes his guard moves. He led a fast break against Louisville on Saturday night and fed Terrence Jones on a perfect bounce pass early Monday night.
Davis’ biggest adjustment, Hale remembered, was just accepting that he wasn’t a guard anymore.
About a month ago, Calipari asked his team to figure out what they can do to help the Wildcats win if they’re not scoring.
“He does about 50 things,” Calipari said of Davis.
Add 51: Winning a national championship.