Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, July 12, 2012 | 11:17 p.m.
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Beyond the Sun
Anthony Davis approached the first defensive possession of his Team USA career like Happy Gilmore on the tee box. Davis stood right around the block, following the ball with his eyes and lining up his body to take a monstrous swing at whichever Dominican Republic player dared to bring the ball into his lane.
The play stopped before anyone could approach the rim, but Davis was so into the action that he played it out anyway, taking a huge step forward followed by a leap and swat at nothing but the Thomas & Mack Center air.
Davis, the No. 1 overall draft pick of the New Orleans Hornets, never did get a block in Team USA’s 113-59 victory against the Dominican Republic, but he did score nine points in the fourth quarter. And now he’s going to get several more chances at that first swat.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin is out of the Olympics with a medial meniscus tear of his left knee, and Davis is the man who will take his place. It wasn’t official as of Thursday night, but USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo said the organization just needed an official withdrawal from Griffin, then it would bump Davis up from alternate to full-blown Olympian.
“I’m excited to finally get the opportunity to play, but still kind of upset Blake went down,” Davis said.
When he spoke with reporters, Davis still didn’t know that his role as an alternate was just a title at that point. The news about Griffin’s injury became official during the game and Colangelo spoke with reporters in a separate room before telling Davis that he would travel with the team to Washington, D.C. instead of staying in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League.
Griffin, who is expected to be ready to go for the Clippers’ fall camp, injured himself during Wednesday’s practice at the Mendenhall Center and flew back to Los Angeles to get it looked at. Also in LA was Davis, who said he was going to meet his agent at about 10:30 on Thursday morning when he got word that he needed to fly back to Vegas as soon as possible.
He landed at about 2 p.m., met the team for a pregame meal and then showed up at the Mack ready to play. Davis hadn’t even practiced with Team USA at training camp because of an ankle injury he suffered early last week, so Thursday was his first live action with the other Olympians.
The veterans were impressed.
“We really rallied around him,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “This is a great opportunity for him.”
Bryant scored just four points but that's all coach Mike Krzyzewski really needed from him anyway. Kevin Durant led the way with 24 points and Andre Iguodala scored 18 in a game that was often ugly but never close.
Davis has run the full gamut of emotions since beginning training camp last Friday. He was honored to be at practice but disappointed he couldn’t play, then a day later he was left off the official 12-man roster. That move certainly wasn’t a surprise, but it’s never easy to be turned down. Fast forward five days and Davis is a fill-in who gets to play a game against and defeat his college coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, who was leading the Dominican Republic.
After the game, Davis got a quick photo with Calipari and a couple of Kentucky assistants who are also on the Dominican coaching staff. It was a cool moment for a group who worked together to win a national championship just last April, and as far as Davis knew that was as good as this experience was going to get.
Not anymore. Davis will travel with the team Friday to Washington, D.C., then there are stops in Manchester, England, and Barcelona, Spain, before they settle in for the London Olympics on July 27. Barring a big upset, Davis will have a gold medal before he ever plays an NBA game.
Calipari said just being on Team USA, no matter how much playing time he gets, would advance Davis’ career by about two years. Davis said he was already learning from his teammates, who just happen to be the best players in the world, and the more time he spends around them the more he’s likely to pick up.
Clippers guard Chris Paul found out the severity of Griffin’s injury from reporters during postgame interviews. He was understandably disappointed and said he would call his Griffin as soon as he left the Mack.
Paul was upset for his Clippers teammate, but he was also excited for his new Team USA teammate. USA Basketball isn’t quite sure what type of talent it has on its hands or how much it will even use him, but the kid who became a national phenomenon for his remarkable athleticism (and remarkably bad unibrow) is getting the opportunity of a lifetime.
“We all watched him play in college, just like everybody else,” Paul said. “He’s got a lot to learn, but what better team to be on for that than this one.”