(Reuters) - Anthony Davis is living the dream, slamming down dunks at the London Olympics with the latest incarnation of the U.S. Dream Team as a 19-year-old player yet to play a National Basketball Association (NBA) game.
Davis was a late addition in place of injured forward Blake Griffin of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, and the U.S. college player of the year from national champions Kentucky has stepped up and won rave reviews from his illustrious team mates.
“He’s great. He’s going to be a great pro,” said LeBron James, the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals in June where he lead the Miami Heat to victory.
“He’s going to be a special player. You can definitely see that,’ added three-time NBA All-Star guard Deron Williams.
“He’s going to be a phenomenal player. He’s one of those guys who’s going to change a franchise for decades,” said three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant.
Davis treated fans at the Olympic Basketball Arena to a sneak preview of his future on Tuesday as the 6-foot-10 (2.08m) number one pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets got his first extended court time in a 110-53 rout of Tunisia.
He managed 12 points, going 5-for-5 from the field on five thunderous slams off alley-oop passes, one blocked shot and three rebounds in 14 minutes of playing time.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this much fun,” Davis told Reuters before practice for the Tunisia game. “They’re treating me good, make me feel like I’m part of the team, make me feel like I’m a (veteran), unless they get too lazy and don’t want to do nothing and I become a rookie again.”
Davis said five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant has already practiced some gamesmanship on him for when they play against each other in league play.
“Kobe said, ‘when you play me, don’t expect to get calls. Even if you touch me a little bit, they’re gonna call a foul. So don’t touch me,’” Davis said with a chuckle. “Superstar calls.”
Davis said it was like the entire U.S. Olympic team had adopted him as a younger brother.
“The whole team always call me their ‘rook.’ Like LeBron says, ‘He’s my rook.’ And Deron says, ‘He’s my rook.’ Kobe: ‘He’s my rook.’ All of them take me under their wing so I learn a little bit from each and every one of them.”
Getting to practice against a roster full of NBA All-Stars has helped him on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. “It’s a win-win,” said Davis, adding that he is not fussed about his playing time or lack thereof.
“I’m just paying my dues. When I hear my name called I go out there and work. I’m not crying for minutes. ... “I’m just happy I’m here.”
Twenty years ago, another college kid played among the NBA giants, as Christian Laettner was given the 12th spot on the original 1992 Dream Team that featured 11 future Hall of Famers including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Laettner, like Davis, was the standout college player that year for Duke University, whose head coach Mike Krzyzewski was an assistant coach on the ‘92 U.S. Olympic team.
Now a TV analyst who runs his own basketball academy in North Carolina, Laettner got a chance at the 2012 Games to speak with Krzyzewski, who is now the head coach of the U.S. team with an Olympic gold medal and world championship under his belt.
“I’ll never forget the practices because I didn’t play in the games very much. And I’ll never forget that when practice was over, I would just beg the guys to play some one-on-one with me after practice, and they all did - Bird, (Chris) Mullin, Jordan, (David) Robinson, (Patrick) Ewing.
“I didn’t have any victories but I learned a lot.”
Laettner went on to play 13 seasons in the NBA for six different teams in a career during which he averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds a game.
He expects much more from Davis.
“He’s an unbelievable player and he’s going to be an unbelievable player in the NBA for long time,” said Laettner. “I think he’s going to be a devastating player.”
Editing by Frank Pingue