The commercial tells us all the time: There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of them will go pro in something other than sports. And then there's Anthony Davis, and that's a whole other story.
He's everything you'd expect basketball superstars to look like 75 years from now. Seven feet tall with arms that stretch forever, he jumps over you or runs past you, and plays power forward with the skills of a point guard. It doesn't seem fair, and surrounded by college basketball players, it definitely isn't.
There were three plays Monday night that stood out. The first came with a little more than 16 minutes left in the second half. Kansas' Thomas Robinson was backing down Terrence Jones and as he turned the corner toward the basket he saw Davis waiting for him in the center of the lane. So Robinson spun back the other way, toward the baseline, and launched a quick floater at the rim. But Davis--who was at least five feet away--closed the gap instantly, blocked the shot, and then controlled it himself for the rebound, toeing the sideline in the process.
The second moment came a few minutes later, when Davis missed a midrange jumper, and Robinson extended one of his gigantic arms and pulled down a one-handed rebound that made him look something like college basketball's incredible hulk. But as soon as he landed, there was Kentucky's 200-pound freshman, poking the ball away for an easy steal, clearing the way for a wide-open Terrence Jones dunk.
Robinson's an All-American and an NBA prospect in his own right, which is what made Monday so incredible. All night long you could see this superstar killing himself, and it made no difference. For all Robinson's efforts, there was Davis turning him into a fool, making it all look effortless.
Then there were the final seconds. Kansas had closed the gap to six and Elijah Johnson had an open three to cut it to a one-possession game. He rose up, and then a seven foot wall of arms and legs (and eyebrow) came flying at him, and he couldn't even bring himself to release the ball.
Travel. Kentucky ball. Game over.
Nothing captures Davis' impact this year better than that last play, so it's only right that it'll never show up in a box score. He tilts the court in his team's favor just by floating around it. As Ethan Strauss wrote at The Classical a few weeks ago, "He’s operating at a different frequency, to such an extent that it totally disorients even the sharpest and most athletic opponents. He disrupts not only their timing, but their confidence in time itself." That seems like hyperbole until you see someone like Thomas Robinson completely befuddled in the biggest game of his life.
Kentucky had the most talent in every game it played this year, but it also had the one player who made college basketball's best laid plans irrelevant. No matter where you spin it's a block, an impressive rebound is a steal, a wide-open three is a travel. Everyone's out of his league.
You almost wish Davis really did finish with one point Monday night, just so the rest of his stats --16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists, three steals -- could underscore how completely he dominated the game.
From here he goes to the top of the NBA Draft, and then who knows. Scouts have compared him to Marcus Camby, but that doesn't do it justice. He's more like Camby's body crossbred with Tracy McGrady's reflexes and Tim Duncan's instincts. Maybe "Kevin Garnett from Mars" works best.
You can't compare him to anyone from the past or present because the future's always a little different. All we can say today is that Anthony Davis is the first honest look at what would've happened if LeBron played in college. Everyone else looked hopeless Monday night and all year long, to the point where you started to feel bad for superstars like Thomas Robinson. It's not his fault he's not from Mars.
Davis never belonged in college basketball, but even if he ended up there by some fluke of NBA bureaucracy and became this year's personification of the NCAA's hypocrisy, I'm glad he went to school. The last few months gave us a glimpse into what's coming, and contextualized talents that we've never really seen before. He's not the gangly unknown he would've been in the NBA this year; he's the next frontier in superstars, the alien power forward right up next to Kevin Durant, the 6'10 shooting guard, and LeBron James, the swingman built like Bill Russell.
There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of them go pro in something other than sports. We've all seen the commercial, we know the story. But this year there was a 19-year-old accidentally thrown into the gene pool, and he's like nothing we've seen before.
Can't wait to watch him in the pros.