NEW ORLEANS — A few weeks ago, Kentucky coach John Calipari asked his players how they helped the team when they weren't scoring.
Anthony Davis shared his answer with the entire country.
The player of the year was simply sublime in a 67-59 victory over Kansas on Monday night that gave the Wildcats their eighth national title. Ignore that 1-for-10 scoring line, his ugliest of the season. Davis tied Joakim Noah's individual record for blocks in the NCAA championship game with six, grabbed 16 rebounds, had five assists and three steals.
If this was the last college game for the freshman, widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA draft, it was a heck of a way to go out.
"He's terrific," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He just impacts the game so much with his length, and he's so quick. ... He is an unbelievable factor on both ends."
As the final seconds ticked down, cheers of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" echoed throughout the arena. Sure enough, to the surprise of no one, Davis was selected the Most Outstanding Player.
"It's a great way" to go out," Davis said. "(But) like I said before, I'm going to wait until April 29th and decide what I'm going to do then, sit down with my coach and my family and see what is the best decision for me."
Davis has loomed large all season and not simply because he's 6-foot-10 with a wingspan of a Piper Cub. A guard until a growth spurt, he still has that sweet shot and sixth sense of a smaller player. Despite playing at a Chicago high school that didn't even have its own gym, Davis seems born for the big stage and bright lights. The 19-year-old plays with the poise and composure of someone a decade older, and he seems completely devoid of any ego.
Having already played Kansas earlier this season, he wasted no time reminding the Jayhawks of what they were in for, crowding Thomas Robinson on the Jayhawks' first few possessions and disrupting the All-American's shots. Kansas center Jeff Withey, a shot-blocking machine himself, looked like a high school kid beside Davis
Though his shots weren't falling, Davis made sure they did for his teammates, setting them up with quick passes that never missed the mark.
"It's not hard to take a backseat, especially playing with a great group of guys," Davis said. "I knew I was struggling. So I told them, 'I'm going to defend and rebound. You all make all the points.' That's what they did tonight."
But it takes more than a big game to be a star at the next level, and Davis is showing he's got that covered, too.
Quiet and humble all season — he's gone out of his way to make sure his teammates weren't overlooked with all his player of the year awards, even singling out point guard Marquis Teague when he accepted The Associated Press player of the year trophy Friday — he's blossomed on the game's biggest stage. Rather than being tight or nervous, he's looked at ease in the spotlight, revealing a charming personality.
Grabbing a national champions T-shirt and hat with "NO-1 Greater" on the front after the game, Davis quickly put them on and strolled over to the Kentucky fans, pointing at the court as he did Saturday night.
No screams of "This is my stage!" on this night, though. There was no need. Everybody, from the Kentucky fans to the Kansas players, already knew it.
While he and the rest of the Wildcats were on the podium for the trophy presentation, Davis repeatedly turned to the Kentucky cheering section, waving his long arms and urging fans to show the Wildcats even more love.
And when Calipari took a little dig at his prized phenom's shooting struggles, Davis played right along.
"Before we left the locker room (at halftime), I said, 'Listen to me, don't you now go out there and try to score. If you have opportunities, score the ball. If you don't, don't worry about it. You were the best player in building, so don't worry,'" Calipari said. "Then he went out and shot the first three balls."
"I was open," Davis chimed in.
"I know why you were open. You were 1 for 10. They were leaving you open," Calipari said as Davis grinned.
But as Davis showed Monday night, he doesn't need to score to dominate a game. Even Robinson had to grudgingly admit that.
"I still don't think he's Superman," Robinson said. "I don't mean to be disrespectful by it, but as a competitor I'm not going to sit here and give all my praise to someone I go up against. Like I say, Anthony is a great player. You see he impacted the game without even scoring today. That's just what he do."
That, and so much more.
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