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Former UK men’s basketball All-Americans DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and John Wall are among 27 players who have accepted invitations to attend the 2013 USA Basketball Men’s National Team mini-camp that will be held July 22-25 in Las Vegas, Nev. USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo announced Wednesday.
Davis heads the list of 20 players with USA Basketball experience having averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds a game as the youngest member of the gold medal winning 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.
Cousins is one of 10 members of the 2012 USA Basketball Select Team that trained against the U.S. Olympic Team during its July 6-11 training in Las Vegas.
Wall, in addition to Cousins and Davis, possesses USA Basketball team experience as a high school senior as members of the USA Basketball Junior National Select Team that competed in the annual Nike Hoop Summit.
The invited players will assemble in Las Vegas on July 21, and will conduct daily training sessions July 22-24 (12:00-2:30 p.m. PDT) and close out the mini-camp with the 2013 USA Basketball Showcase, a blue-white intra-squad game on Thursday, July 25, 6 p.m. PDT at the Thomas & Mack Arena on the campus of UNLV. All USA practices will take place at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center and are closed to the general public.
Tickets for the 2013 USA Basketball Showcase on July 25 go on sale June 13. Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased by calling 702-739-FANS or at www.UNLVtickets.com.
By GUERRY SMITH, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Hornets center Anthony Davis interrupted a weightlifting session Monday to review his rookie season with reporters at the team’s practice facility. Sidelined for the final three games by a knee injury — the latest in a series of minor setbacks during an otherwise successful debut —Davis knows where he needs to improve the most.
“It’s definitely my biggest focus, to get stronger,” he said. “The NBA wears down your body a lot. You definitely have to take care of your body. That’s a big part of the league, the wear and tear of 82 games.”
When he was on the court, Davis showed a well-rounded game befitting the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. He averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.2 steals and 1.0 assists, becoming the fifth player in NBA history to reach those marks in all five categories. The others were Chris Webber, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Still, Davis likely won’t win the rookie-of-the-year award; Portland’s Damian Lillard is the overwhelming favorite.
After leading Kentucky to the NCAA championship in 2012, New Orleans had high expectations of him. If anything, he was more effective offensively than advertised, showing a nice midrange shot to go along with the athletic ability and defensive skills that made him the Associated Press Player of the Year in his one season with the Wildcats.
“I think I did pretty well,” Davis said of his rookie performance. “I look forward to the offseason and getting better and moving in the right direction. I want to be as healthy as possible and hopefully play in all 82 games.”
He will have missed 18 when the Hornets finish their season at Dallas on Wednesday. The last three times he was sidelined have been more precautionary than anything else. Davis said the left knee he sprained against Sacramento on April 10 was fine, but the injuries have been the only knock on his game.
The Hornets knew Davis (6-feet-10, 220 pounds) needed to bulk up when they drafted him. He was not yet physical enough to survive the pounding inside in the NBA, but he adapted well in his first season. Davis’ .516 shooting percentage was the second best among players in the Hornets’ rotation behind center Robin Lopez, who took almost all of his shots from point-blank range.
“He’s had a good rookie season,” Hornets guard Eric Gordon said. “There’s nothing to worry about because he’s very talented. He has a lot of upside, more than a lot of guys in this league. He’s definitely going to have a big-time career for sure.”
Davis, who also plays forward, led New Orleans in scoring 10 times and in rebounding 20 times, getting a season-high 28 points against Milwaukee in November and grabbing a personal-best 18 rebounds against Memphis in March. He also tipped in a missed shot by Gordon with 0.6 seconds left to give New Orleans an 87-86 win over Boston on March 18.
The Hornets (27-54) have not won often. They have the second-worst record in the Western Conference entering the finale at Dallas, and coach Monty Williams said recently that record would be better if he had played Davis more.
The plan, though, was to protect his body and build for the future. His average of 28.8 minutes was the second lowest among Hornets’ starters and backup power forward Ryan Anderson frequently was on the floor in the fourth quarter.
Davis said he understood Williams’ motivation.
“Coach wants nothing but to help the whole team out,” he said. “I know he’s going to steer me in the right direction and never is going to steer me wrong. We are all looking at the big picture here. What he has in mind for me right now I’m happy with.”
Next year, with what should be a bigger, stronger frame, Davis said he expects to make a larger impact on the Hornets’ record.
“I want to continue to do the same thing I do now and more — run the floor, rebound and play around the basket,” he said. “If I continue to do
that and add a little of what coach (Williams) wants me to add, then we can be pretty good.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra certainly has been impressed by New Orleans rookie Anthony Davis.
“It’s hard not to like him in some respect,” Spoelstra said by Jimmy Smith on NOLA.com. “He’s so young, so raw, yet he’s already having an impact. His skill level is vast. It really is. With his length, his speed, his athleticism, but his ability to make skilled plays in a lot of different areas, he’s going to be an extremely intriguing player as he gets more experience.
“Talk about a positionless player, you don’t know where to put that guy. You don’t want to put him in a box because he’s a hybrid, for sure.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Montverde (Fla.) Academy coach Kevin Boyle coached UK freshman Nerlens Noel in an all-star game and watched the adjustments he made to his overall game at UK this year before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
“He made great strides at Kentucky. Dakari (Johnson) can do the same thing,” Boyle said. “He’s had good training here, but they do an excellent job at Kentucky working with the bigs. Each season he is there he will be a good offensive player and he’ll grow offensively each year. He’s a legit NBA player in the future.
“He will be a big guy for Kentucky that will create a lot of contact. Nerlens is more of a shot blocker but Dakari will be more physical than anybody they have when he posts up. It’s like hitting a brick wall when you hit him. He’s 260 pounds and rooted in the ground and is hard to move. You bump into him, he doesn’t move at all. He will give them a different type of post presence. It won’t be a high flying, shot blocking presence like Noel or (Anthony) Davis. It will be more of a physical presence.”
Boyle says not to believe that Johnson cannot run the floor, though, because of his size.
“He is a big kid but he runs the court and has gotten faster,” Boyle said. “We payed the best high school teams in the nation. We have played six teams that were ranked in the top five at one time. He’s had good success sprinting and getting to the rim after getting a rebound. He has no problem keeping up and sprinting to the rim. He’s also a big body if he is trailing the play that can set a screen on a point guard because he’s a big body to try and get around. You will likely have a sore shoulder if you run into him.”
Johnson not only will be playing in the two prestigious national all-star games, but Montverde Academy will play in the fifth annual National High School Invitational April 4-6 at Georgetown Preparatory School’s Hanley Center for Athletic Excellence in Bethesda, Md. All eight teams are ranked in the ESPN 25 Power Rankings and six are in the top 10 including No.1 Findlay Prep and No. 2 Montverde Academy. ESPN will televise the event.
“It’s truly a national championship and comes right after the McDonald’s Game (on April 3 in Chicago). But he’s excited about all of that,” Boyle said. “He’s also excited about getting to Kentucky. I had the good fortune when I was at Seton Hall of playing in the UKIT at Christmas time and got to experience the crowd. I know that’s at another level. Nobody rivals the spirit and intensity. Those fans have passion 365 days a year for their basketball team. For anybody that likes basketball, that is an exciting environment. It is an incredible opportunity for Dakari.”
Boyle has no idea which current Wildcats might still be on the roster with Johnson and other talented incoming freshmen next season. However, he noted what a big role veterans Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones played when Kidd-Gilchrist won a national title at UK two years ago.
“You like to blend experience with new talent,” Boyle said. “It’s just hard to win with all freshmen. Having a blend of some guys back helped Mike’s team. I just don’t think the team this year had quite enough overall experience, no guys to lean on to learn.
“I coached (freshman) Archie Godwin (in all-star play). He’s a terrific player and talent. But it just takes time to learn and understand. He was used to having the ball more and scoring himself. Now he had to adjust to not always having the ball. Every freshman has to make adjustments like that and so will Dakari. That’s why if some players return, it will help all the freshmen a lot.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Being back in Rupp Arena Saturday was special for Anthony Davis Sr. — and that was before Kentucky beat No. 11 Florida.
“It brings back a lot of memories just to be back in this Kentucky atmosphere rooting for the Cats again. It’s unbelievable,” said Davis.
Last season he seldom missed a game in Rupp Arena when his son, Anthony, was playing for Kentucky and leading the Wildcats to a national championship in a season when he swept most major postseason individual awards. He went on to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft by New Orleans and was on the Olympic gold-medal winning United States team.
“It was definitely a great experience coming back. Just to see these guys, coming back (today) … Anthony wishes he was still here playing, but he had to move on. But it is good to come back and see everybody,” Davis said. “I just wanted to come back and visit the Kentucky family. I miss them. Anthony misses them.
“I wanted to see a game and enjoy it I have kept up with them since day one this year. They are going to be fine. You have to believe that. They are young, energetic. They just have to come together.”
His son’s rookie season has been rocky at times mainly due to various injuries. However, he had 20 points and 18 rebounds in a game Saturday.
“It has been a learning experience. He had a couple of injuries early on. We will just have to see what the second half of the season is going to bring him,” Davis said. “But he is getting a chance to play with guys he has dreamed about playing with all his life. You get to play with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James. He’s really enjoying that and having fun with it.”
His parents try to get down at least once every two weeks to see him play.
“He is still only 19 and misses home, so we try to get down a lot to see him play,” Davis said. “His mother misses him. She is not handling it well. She tries to get down a lot to see him, though.”
Davis said his son stays in touch with his former UK teammates.
“They are like brothers. They have a tight bond with each other. I don’t think nobody can break that up,” Davis said.
He’s not sure how often his son talks to UK coach John Calipari. “But I imagine they keep in touch. He thinks a lot of coach Cal,” Davis said.
Davis still remembers how nervous he was a year ago as Kentucky was poised to start its national championship quest.
“To see him come from high school and only win six games and come here to Kentucky and win a national championship, it was great for him. We really enjoyed the experience with him,” Davis said. “Those guys wanted to win so much. Once they all got together and forget all the all-star games and just the guys that were coming in and sacrificing for each other and not worrying who would score the most, they really wanted it. They talked about it during the McDonald’s All-American Game, but then to come out and win it was a blessing for all of them and us.”
It was enough of a blessing that UK’s Final Four MVP won’t ever forget his college roots.
“Without a doubt, he’ll be back here. I have no doubt in my mind. He loves it here. He will always be a Wildcat. He is a Wildcat from here on out,” his father said. “I knew he would come in and make a big difference here, but I did not he would come in and dominate his one and only year at Kentucky. We are proud of him.”
His parents will be even prouder when he eventually completes his college degree that his father says he will “most definitely” complete.
“He will if his mommy and daddy have anything to say. He will do it. Don’t worry about that,” Davis said.
Artist Jason Robichau of Phoenix says he’s a huge college basketball fan who cannot watch enough of March Madness each year. That led him to start three years ago to putting together a painting of the national championship team.
His newest print is, “The Pursuit of Gr8ness,” in honor of Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team.
“I just want to try and commemorat the national champion each year,” said Robichau. “I decided to do a painting of the team’s run to the national title and for Kentucky it just seemed right to pick the eight primary players who played significant time and put them around (John) Calipari to go with the eight national titles.”
Kentucky players Darius Miller, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones, Kyle Wiltjer, Doron Lamb and Eloy Vargas are shown with Calipari as he holds up the national championship trophy.
“I compiled various images to use in the background, too,” Robichau. “I tried to get every player on the team in the background, too. They are all there.”
The background includes Davis blocking Cody Zeller’s shot, Kidd-Gilchrist scoring against Baylor and the team’s visit to the White House.
“It takes so long to do these because I want them to be something fans want to keep around. But I plan to keep doing this every year,” he said. “It is kind of hard to get the word out, especially when you don’t live in the area where the team is from. However, once word gets out a lot of fans buy it and that’s why I try to make sure every player on the team is included.
Go to http://www.jasonrobichau.com/pursuit-of-gr8ness-lithograph for more information or contact Robichau at email@example.com. The limited edition lithograph prints are normally $50 but can be purchased now for $25.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Before the season started, Kentucky had three freshmen — Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin — already projected as lottery picks in the 2013 June NBA draft.
Not long after the season started, freshman Willie Cauley-Stein did enough on the court to put himself into the same type of lofty draft status even though he didn’t make his first start until Saturday after Noel was lost for the season due to a knee injury.
The expectations were nothing new for UK freshmen. Back in 2010, Kentucky had four freshmen — John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe — all picked in the first round. Last year the Cats had three freshmen — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague — all go in round one. Back in 2011, freshman Brandon Knight was a first-round pick and so was Enes Kanter even though he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and never played a game all year.
But this season has not quite gone the way many expected. Noel was leading the nation in blocked shots when he was hurt and still seems a lock to be a top five pick at worse. However, the other three freshmen have been consistently inconsistent in UK’s 17-8 season. Kentucky has gone from a preseason top five team considered a Final Four contender to a team desperately looking for a way to just keep a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Against Tennessee Saturday, Poythress was 2-for-4 from the field and had four points, two rebounds and one turnover in 20 minutes before fouling out. Goodwin was 2-for-9 from the field and had seen points, four assists, four turnovers and two rebounds in 34 minutes. Cauley-Stein was 1-for-4 from the field and had two points, two rebounds, two blocks and four turnovers in 23 minutes. That means the trio had 13 points, six rebounds and nine turnovers in 77 minutes.
Yet go to nbadraft.net and its mock draft has Noel going fourth, Cauley-Stein 10th, Poythress 19th and Goodwin 20th in the June draft.
What gives? How do those numbers justify top 20 picks?
That’s what I asked a NBA scout who has seen UK play. He can’t comment publicly on draftable players, but he basically said not to believe all mock drafts because where teams project players can be far different. He noted that Goodwin has a “bad release on his shots” and that Poythress has a “lot of wasted motion” in his game. He questioned Cauley-Stein’s “focus and game speed” in key situations. He also didn’t think Noel’s injury would scare many teams or dramatically alter his draft status.
But I remember former UK all-American Kyle Macy telling me once that players should enter the draft when their stock is the highest. Teague did that last year. So did Doron Lamb. So did Bledsoe and even Orton two three years ago. DeAndre Liggins did the same two years ago. What if Goodwin, Poythress and Cauley-Stein sense their draft stock has dropped? Would coming back make it higher considering the recruiting class Calipari already has — and may add to — could likely dictate less playing time for all three next year?
“Some guys just don’t mature as the same rate as others,” the NBA scout said. “It happens all the time across the country. It’s just not been the norm with the one-and-done guys at Kentucky. But everybody is not one-and-done.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
How would Florida coach Billy Donovan compare UK freshman Nerlens Noel, the nation’s leading shot blocker, with Anthony Davis, the nation’s best last year when he led UK to a national title?
“I think he is just as good as Anthony Davis as a shot blocker, I don’t think there is any question about that. He has unbelievable length, has unbelievable timing, he is very gifted at it for a skill guy,” said Donovan.
“He keeps himself out of foul trouble; he can alter shots from a lot different directions and areas on the floor. I think we have to have a level of intelligence, and I think driving in there and trying to shoot over top of him is probably not a wise choice, but I still think we are a team that needs to attack.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Auburn coach Tony Barbee said Monday that Kentucky “was as hot as anyone in the league,” a statement Kentucky coach John Calipari obviously would not agree with.
Kentucky is on a three-game win streak after wins at Mississippi and Texas A&M last week going into Tuesday’s home game with South Carolina. However, Calipari says UK remains in a “state of flux” in early February.
The UK coach noted that sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow missed games for personal reasons early in the season. Freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein has been out after needing knee surgery in mid-January but did play four minutes at Texas A&M in his first game back.
“We have been in flux the whole year,” said Calipari on the Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference. “We have not settled into who we are. We are playing harder, executing better. Individuals are playing better. But we are still in flux.”
Calipari again indicated that one major problem has been a lack of physical play. He said UK had “guys that don’t want that type of (physical) game” like UK survived in overtime at Texas A&M.
“Until you relish that, you look passive and soft,” Calipari said. “You have to want that.”
Calipari used Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin as a player who “relishes that kind of game” and how Florida’s success starts with him.
“You have to want to drive that man into the screen. You want that action,” the UK coach said. “If you don’t want that action, the physicalness has a big impact.”
Kentucky has the nation’s premier shot blocker, Nerlens Noel, after having Anthony Davis fill the same role last year. But Calipari said Miami (Fla.) have guards that make tough play as does Alabama, a team that beat Kentucky.
“They want a rough game. If you are trying to avoid contact, you are at a big disadvantage. If the game is called loosely, you have no chance to win,” Calipari said. “It wears you down and by the end of the game you are turning it over, missing shots, missing free throws.”
Calipari said his first UK team featuring Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe welcomed physical play. The Final Four team two years ago had trouble with it and went 2-6 in SEC road games. He said even last year’s national championship team was not overly tough early in the season,
South Carolina coach Frank Martin is more impressed with the Wildcats’ guard play than what Calipari indicated he was.
“I think Cal has done an unbelievable job. You are talking two guys, one (Julius) Mays is a transfer and one (Harrow) sat out last year (as a transfer). I think Cal has done a tremendous job getting those kids to grow. Being a guard is hard. It’s not like they have upperclassmen around them to make the transition easier. For Mays, this is also his first year around Cal. I am sure he learns every single day something that he did not know before.”
Martin said having freshmen like Alex Poythress, Noel, Cauley-Stein and Archie Goodwin with no proven older player to lead them is difficult. However, Martin believes UK’s overall defense is better than some believe and is more than just Noel blocking shots.
“It starts up top with their ball pressure. It is hard to break them down and when you do it, it is not a big crack,” Martin said. “Then the human eraser (Noel) is back there to protect the rim. I think defensively they are very good. I don’t like speaking off the top of my head, but watching on film the times they have not had the success they want has not been because of their defense. They have missed shots or not executed the way Cal wants on the offensive end. But it definitely was not because of their defense.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel has moved into the national lead in blocked shots and is now ahead of the record-setting pace Anthony Davis had last year thanks to 46 blocks in the last six games, including 12 in Tuesday’s win at Mississippi when he dominated the outcome despite scoring only two points.
“It’s a beautiful thing to just go in there and quiet them down, especially when they get high to just bring them right back low. That’s what we were prepared for, what we were prepared to do, just go in there and do our thing, just really play ball. I think that’s what we did from the tip,” Noel said today as he looked back on the win. “A lot of people think it’s about scoring, but every team is always going to have its given scorers, two or three guys that are always going to get the majority of the buckets. Defense is something that’s undervalued on some teams. It can change the whole game in significant ways. That’s what my focus was the other night, knowing that offense wasn’t going (my way), I wasn’t shooting the ball as much. So on nights like that, you’ve just got to take 100 percent pride in your defense and just do the best for your team. (You) always gotta find a way to be effective, no matter what.”
He shared various thoughts today on his game and play going into Saturday night’s game at Texas A&M
Question: When did he realize he was having record-setting game?
Noel: “I didn’t think of it as otherworldly. I know that’s one of my better parts to my game is blocking shots, and I do my best to do it at a high rate as well. I definitely tried to stay on it the whole game. I wasn’t sure I had that many blocks until someone told me, but I’m never sure how many blocks I have. I just go out there and block as many as I can.”
Question: How did he block six shots with four fouls?
Noel: “It was one point when I was very cautious of the four fouls. Ryan’s man went by him and he scored. I knew I had four fouls, but I knew that wasn’t how we was gonna win the game, by me just staying back and not blocking shots. I definitely took it to play smart and just definitely avoid contact when they came to the basket, and that’s what I did. I just anticipated what they were doing, trying to jump into my body. I definitely took a different angle at blocking the shots and just staying away from the contact. I just did my best for that, to stay away from contact so the refs didn’t blow their whistle.”
Question: What has changed during his recent shot-blocking spree?
Noel: “Just the mindset I have. I know I’ve got to step up for this team to have the success that is expected. I’ve got to take a leadership role and really apply myself to this team, just give my all and just really do my best for this team so we can meet our expectations if not exceed them.”
Question: Did coach John Calipari tell him to be more aggressive with four fouls?
Noel: “Cal told me to stay cautious and they needed me on the court. But I knew I wasn’t going to be as effective if I was just laying back and just letting them score. We wanted to win the game, and I felt like that was a game we really needed to win at that time of the season. It was my choice to just really get more aggressive but also playing smart at the same time.”
Question: How important is it for UK to follow the Ole Miss win with another victory?
Noel: “It’s real big. We definitely owe them something. We’re definitely a different team than when we played them last. Certain players have stepped it up, just really started doing what they need to do for this team and playing a big role. We’ve changed a lot since then, and it’s going to be big for us to get this win and keep this thing going the way we want it to so we can really, really completely turn that corner and just really make our own identity for who we want to be and how far we want to go.”
Question: Is he motivated knowing Elston Turner scored 40 points on UK when Texas A&M won in Rupp Arena?
Noel: “That’s something we have to feel a certain way about, someone dropping 40. We’ve got another chance to play them. Whoever guard him, whoever is on the court that’s going to guard him, one of us has to just feel some type of way and really just have a certain determination to really get in him and lock him down and not let him get shots off.”