Last Updated: 9:20 AM, April 3, 2012
Posted: 3:24 AM, April 3, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — It is a timeless truth coaches at every level have tried to convey from the beginning of basketball time. The moment you introduce mates into the mix, the instant basketball stops being an individual novelty in the driveway and a becomes a team game in a gym, the propaganda starts.
You don’t have to score 30 points. There are dozens of things — unsung things, underappreciated things — that are just as important. Players nod, say they understand. But they understand this, too: Points get you noticed. Points get your name in the newspaper. Points get you the full ride.
“We have guys who don’t care how many shots they get,” coach John Calipari kept insisting all across this season, as Kentucky zoomed to the top of the rankings and stayed there, all the way to last night’s 67-59 coronation of a victory against Kansas in the national championship game. “So you know they don’t care how many points they get.”
So here was Anthony Davis last night, the best college player on the planet, an NBA franchise game-changer in a few months, who has shown all year that, yes, he is a highly evolved, highly skilled offensive player, a shotmaker with splendid moves and a sweet touch.
“And it tells you how good a player he really is,” Kansas coach Bill Self would say last night, “when you realize there are so many other things he does well. As we all got a good look at tonight.”
Yes, in his biggest game, on the largest stage, Davis proved what coaches have been preaching for a century: If you are a good enough player, a complete enough player, scoring is almost besides the point. In the first half he played 16 minutes, took only four shots, missed them all. Didn’t score. Didn’t scratch.
Didn’t matter: he was still the dominant force on the floor, still the reason the Wildcats built up a big enough lead that even an uneven second half couldn’t deny them their first championship in 14 years.
“You were the best player on the floor without scoring a point,” Calipari told him before they left the locker room at halftime. “Don’t worry about it.”
So he wouldn’t. For the night there were 16 rebounds. There were six blocks, none of them swatted into the Superdome mezzanine, most of them redirected to teammates’ hands. There were three steals. Five assists.
Did anyone notice he had only six points? Did anyone in Lexington care he didn’t score his first point until 4 1/2 minutes were gone in the second half, or his only field goal until almost 15 minutes were gone? Did that single-nickel output keep anyone from turning their couches into campfires?
“I asked these guys all season, ‘What are you doing when you’re not making baskets?’ ” Calipari said. “Well, you know what he does.”
There was a moment, late in the second half, Kansas finally mounting a desperate rally, finally eating into the lead, Kentucky starting to miss free throws, the Cats’ offense looking stale and stagnant. There were fewer than 30 seconds to go, they’d just missed a free throw, they were up six — and it was impossible not to conjure 2008, when Calipari’s Memphis team had blown a nine-point lead with under 2 1/2 to play, thanks to missed free throws.
But while that team had a forever freshman too — a future NBA MVP named Derrick Rose — it didn’t have a weapon like this. Kansas’ Elijah Johnson lined up to take a 3 that would cut the lead in half, here came Davis one more time, running out at Johnson, arms that had to look to the Jayhawks guard like they were touching the dome roof.
Johnson went up, and he came down, and while he tried to sneak a shot off — it swished through — it couldn’t prevent the referee’s whistle from piercing the moment. Traveling.
Naturally, that was a play you won’t find anywhere on Davis’ stat line, just in the memory of anyone who watched the game, who saw a player make one basket in 36 minutes and dominate a game more than if he’d gone double-nickel.