Standing inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Anthony Davis used his 7-foot-6 wingspan to hug the national championship trophy as tight as he could. The Kentucky Wildcats were on top of the college basketball world once again, and the star freshman big man made it all possible.
With a 38-2 overall record — the most wins in NCAA men’s Division I history — the Wildcats had just knocked off the Kansas Jayhawks to win the 2012 NCAA national title, the school’s first under head coach John Calipari. It was a sweet moment, for sure, one that will remain in college hoops lore, and with a squad led by Davis that was built to destroy anyone who even dared to step in their path to glory.
On the 2011-12 team, which finished 16-0 in SEC play, six players were taken in that summer’s 2012 NBA Draft. Davis (No. 1), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 2), Terrence Jones (No. 18), Marquis Teague (No. 29), Doron Lamb (No. 42) and Darius Miller (No. 46) all found homes at the next level.
However, it was Davis, the top-overall pick to the New Orleans Hornets, that was the anchor to one of the greatest college basketball teams ever.
Although he averaged a rather modest 14.2 points per game on 62.3 percent shooting and 10.4 rebounds per game, the baby-faced kid with a unibrow from Perspectives Charter in Chicago, Illinois completely dominated on the defensive end and changed every game, almost always being the best player on the floor. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 4.7 blocks per game and took home every award imaginable.
In his lone season at Kentucky, Davis was the Naismith Player of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, SEC Player of the Year, USBWA National Freshman of the Year, NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Consensus First-Team All-American, Consensus National Player of the Year, and NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
It doesn’t get any better than that in men’s basketball.
Since then, “The Brow” has become a NBA superstar with the New Orleans Pelicans, adding a lethal scoring prowess to go with his elite rebounding and shot-blocking abilities, en route to earning five NBA All-Star Game appearances, three All-NBA First Team selections, and making his case to be the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Davis was nearly the consensus No. 1 overall prospect coming out of high school, so he was already a star in the making, but here are the five games that truly sparked his rise to stardom before the world finds out the next team he will play for:
Opponent: Marist College Red Foxes
Statistics: 23 points (10-for-13), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks
With so much NBA talent on the team, it was time for the Wildcats to prove why they deserved to be the No. 2 team in the country. Davis did just that inside Rupp Arena, practically destroying the spirits of poor Marist early by throwing down an alley-oop in the first 15 seconds and never taking his foot off the gas in UK’s 108-58 victory in the Hall of Fame Tip Off in Lexington, Kentucky.
The SEC Dominance
Opponent: Arkansas Razorbacks
Statistics: 27 points (10-for-12), 14 rebounds, 7 blocks
After solid games against Kansas (14 points, 6 rebounds, 7 blocks) and St. John’s (15 points, 15 rebounds, 8 blocks) during Kentucky’s non-conference slate, Davis really picked it up in SEC play, and the big man’s game against the Arkansas Razorbacks was the perfect example. Davis was longer, more skilled, and pretty much world’s better than anyone else on the floor that January night. He made shooting over 80 percent and stuffing the box score in a league game look like a casual walk in the park.
The Career High
Opponent: Vanderbilt Commodores
Statistics: 28 points (10-for-11), 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 5 blocks
It’s no secret Anthony Davis made Rupp Arena his own personal playground for a season, but he got buckets like none other against Vandy. While it might not be the huge numbers he currently puts up in the NBA, dropping 28 points on over 90-percent shooting was his best wearing the blue and white while at the the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Adding a casual 11 rebounds and five blocks wasn’t too shabby, either.
The Big Stage Authority
Opponent: Louisville Cardinals (Final Four)
Statistics: 18 points (7-for-8), 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 5 blocks
By the time March came around, Davis was so dominant, it was scary. He thrashed the Florida twice with double-doubles, including in the regular season finale, and after losing the SEC Tournament championship game to Vanderbilt, he went on an absolute terror in the NCAA Tournament against Western Kentucky, Iowa State, Indiana, and Baylor to reach the 2012 Final Four.
Then, when the ball tipped up on college basketball’s biggest stage, Davis put on a show against Louisville to prove he deserved every POY accolade possible. It would be the last of his 20 double-double performances during Kentucky basketball’s historic 2011-12 season.
Opponent: Kansas Jayhawks (National Championship)
Statistics: 6 points (1-for-10), 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 6 blocks
Although this was far from his best shooting night, the way Davis dominated the game in other areas was simply incredible. He was a beast on the glass, dished out a career-high five assists, and altered even more shots than the six blocks he is credited for. It was a virtuoso performance in many ways and it was the perfect exclamation point to cap off one of the most incredible single seasons in college basketball history.
Then, much like NBA Draft picks such as point guard John Wall and big man DeMarcus Cousins before him, Davis left after his freshman season, and has been dominant at the game’s highest level ever since.