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By LARRY VAUGHT
The night Anthony Davis announced he was leaving Kentucky to pursue a career in the National Basketball Association, he admitted that he had always dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal.
He had no idea then that instead of having to wait until 2016 to potentially achieve that goal, he would be getting ready to play for the United States in London along with some of the NBA’s biggest stars with a chance to win a gold medal now.
“I never even thought about that. Not at all,” said Davis during a phone interview Monday after the team finished practice in Barcelona. “This is a great opportunity to come out here and try to win a gold medal with a great team. I am trying to take full advantage of this opportunity. I am learning something new each and every day. These players are teaching me a lot and giving me great advice about the game. Hopefully we will be playing for the gold medal Aug. 12 and will win that game.”
In less than four months, Davis has led Kentucky to the national championship, swept most of the top individual honors in college basketball, been the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike and made the Olympic team thanks in part to an injury to Blake Griffin’s injury.
“It has been hectic, but not overwhelming,” Davis, who was added to the team July 12, said. “It’s fun playing with these guys. They are so much fun to play with. They are teaching me the ropes. Just being around them off the court helps show me how to be a professional, how to greet the fans. It’s such a great opportunity for me.”
Davis averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks, 1.4 steals and 1.3 assists per game for UK last season and his 186 blocked shots were the most in Southeastern Conference history as well as the most ever by a freshman in college basketball. He had 20 double-doubles and set a UK freshman record with 399 rebounds. He also shot 62.3 percent from the field and 70.9 percent at the foul line.
Yet Davis admits he was a bit timid when he was invited to try out for the team and then join the team coached by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. He wasn’t quite ready to see himself on the same team with players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Chris Paul and other stars.
“At first, I was scared and nervous playing with these guys. They are ones I looked up to. I was scared, holding myself back in practice and not doing things because I was in awe of playing with these guys,” Davis, who has played in one of the three exhibition games, said. “Now I am more relaxed and comfortable. I’m being myself more.
“I’m getting some minutes in games, performing better in practice, playing like I belong with these guys. It’s a lot of fun. It really is. The hardest thing is that you have to compete every second. These guys are all competitors and they compete very well even in practice. Plus, international ball is a lot different than what the NBA will be. It has been kind of difficult for me to pick up, but all the players are helping me out and telling me what to do.”
The one game Davis — who was hampered at the team tryouts by a sprained ankle — did get to play, his teammates liked what they saw.
“I thought he played extremely well, we really rallied around him as we rally around everybody else. But, particularly him because he’s so young. It was a great opportunity for him and he played extremely well and played with a lot of confidence,” Bryant told USA Basketball after Davis’ 11-point performance.