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January 13, 2012
Instincts key as Davis closes in on blocks record
Anthony Davis doesn't crunch the numbers.
So the Kentucky freshman isn't aware that he's blocked more shots than 286 Division I basketball teams. He can't tell you that he's on pace to break the Southeastern Conference record for shots in a single-season.
And until some reporters informed him on Friday, the 6-foot-10 forward didn't know that he'll enter No. 2 Kentucky's game at Tennessee on Saturday five blocks shy of tying the school's single-season record for blocks.
"You lose focus if you're looking at statistics," Davis said. "So I just try to keep my focus on the court."
But those statistics are staggering. If Davis blocks six shots against the Volunteers - he averages 4.6 per game - he'll break a single-season record held by Melvin Turpin and Andre Riddick, who needed 31 and 34 games, respectively, to set it.
It'll be Davis' 18th collegiate game.
"It tells you he's a pretty good shot blocker," UK coach John Calipari said. "He goes after balls. The best shot blockers I've seen are the ones that let people release the ball and then go get it, and that's what he does."
Davis has remarkable timing for a freshman whose growth spurt in the last two years took him from a 6-foot-3 guard to a 6-foot-10 forward/center who's swatting shots in record numbers. He calls his knack for knocking away shots "100 percent" instinct.
"It just grew on me," Davis said. "I really didn't work at it."
That mirrors the shot-blocking path of Marcus Camby, who played for Calipari at Massachusetts and also grew up a guard before his height skyrocketed.
"A lot of times those bigger guys that have always been bigger don't have that (instinct)," Calipari said. "But those guys that grew from 6-3 to 6-10 have guard instincts and guard reaction to things, a quicker reaction, a quicker twitch."
Davis arrived at Kentucky knowing he'd be a shot-blocking force. But he didn't expect this.
Davis' 78 blocks this season would tie him with Kansas State for the 52nd-most for a team in Division I basketball. If Kentucky plays 38 games - the number it's played each of the last two seasons - he'd block 174 shots at his current pace.
That would fall well short of David Robinson's NCAA single-season record of 207, but would break the SEC record of 170 in a season that Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado set twice.
Davis said he didn't set out to break records, but admits he "knew it was a possibility."
"It's crazy because when I was 6-1, 6-2, I was getting my shot blocked," Davis said. "To actually grow and actually be able to break a record for blocked shots is amazing."
Davis also is keying a Kentucky defense that's on pace to set shot-blocking records. UK leads the nation with 156 blocked shots and is on a pace to break Connecticut's single-season record of 315 blocks set in 2004. The Wildcats also are on pace to break Georgetown's 1989 NCAA record of 9.09 blocks per game.
And it's not just about the numbers. Davis makes an impact on games both physically and psychologically with his presence on the court.
"You don't get layups that you think you have," Calipari said. "You think you're going to get one off, but you just hear all week about this guy blocking shots and he comes flying at you and you shoot one high."
Davis also has blocked more than half his shots away from the basket. He's capable of turning away an attempt in the paint or pursuing a shooter to the perimeter to swat away a three-point try.
He's proven so adept at turning away shots, Davis said that some opponents have gone so far as to reference his impact on the court. South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington told Davis he'd never played against anyone quite like him, Davis said.
"(Ellington) was telling me, 'I don't know why my teammates keep going in there, they know you're going to block it,'" Davis said. "That was really funny."
But Davis has a serious impact on games, which is why Calipari has stressed that Davis needs to play strong and get a low base in his defensive stance, the better to avoid getting in foul trouble against more physical players.
"When I'm out of the game I see a lot of guys driving to the hole, getting layups, and Coach Cal even said, 'He means a lot to us on defense,'" Davis said. "(I'm) trying to stop the scheme of what the team is doing. (When I'm in the game), they're shooting more jumpers. More rebounds that we can get and outlet the ball for fast-break points. When I'm out of the game, they really try to drive and get easy layups."