While Derrick Rose’s return to the United Center was the most highly-anticipated portion of Saturday evening’s 95-78 Team USA exhibition-game win over Brazil, fellow Chicagoan Anthony Davis stole the show with a game-high 20 points, to go along with eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
The Perspecttives Charter School graduate, South Side native and New Orleans Pelicans big man wowed his hometown crowd with his intimidating defensive presence, high-flying dunks and all-out effort, including diving over the courtside seats in pursuit of a loose ball, as well as using his superior quickness against bulkier Brazilian big men and NBA players Nene of Washington, Anderson Varejao of Cleveland and Tiago Splitter of reigning champion San Antonio.
“It felt great,” said the 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick, who hasn’t played in Chicago as an NBA player due to untimely injuries. “This was the first time I played on this floor since high school. It was great to be back here in front of the home crowd, friends and family supporting me and it was great we got the win.
“I’m just out there playing. I kind of struggled in the first half, missing shots I normally take and Kyrie [Irving] told me, ’Are you going to stop seeing the ball you missed three jump shots?’ and told him, ‘No,” continued last season’s league-leading shot-blocker and a first-time Western Conference All-Star. “We came out ran a play for me and made the first one, and he said, ‘That’s all you needed.’ Then I hit my next three or four. I’m just trying to go out there and play. I’m very comfortable and confident. So I just go out there and play to the best of my ability.”
Rose was impressed by the performance of Davis, who also played for John Calipari in college.“'Ant' played great, man. That’s what we need—blocking shots, rebounding, diving for the ball out of bounds,” Rose said. “We didn’t know how he was going to play with the bigs they have because he’s kind of smaller than they are weight-wise. But he came out here and hooped.”
USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Team USA assistant Tom Thibodeau were also pleased with Davis’ outing, even finding humor in it.
“Well, I would have been a complete idiot of he wasn’t in the starting lineup. I mean he’s one of the best players in the NBA. I mean Anthony Davis is terrific. Even though Tom didn’t want to start him,” Krzyzewski joked. “He wanted to play zone and not put pressure.
Thibodeau countered, “I hate a guy like that protecting the rim. I was talking to Monty [Williams, his fellow USA Basketball assistant and Davis’ head coach in New Orleans] about that.”
Krzyzewski added: “Anthony is like one of the emerging stars, and we hope that what happens to a lot of those guys in 2010 will happen to him in this competition where it just launches what should be a storied career for him. Another great guy. You talk about these Chicago guys, he and Derrick, the best guys, easy to coach, team guys, dreams to coach. Both those guys are dreams to coach.”
The only remotely negative situations for Davis, who skipped Friday’s Team USA practice, were the injury risk while diving for the aforementioned loose ball and appearing gimpy late in the game after what Krzyzewski described as being “hit in a bad spot.”
“I’m fine. Hope she’s fine. That was 240 pounds coming right at her,” Davis said of crashing into a fan courtside. “But that’s the type of play we need—hustle plays and that got us going.”
Davis has enjoyed playing with Rose thus far and the 2012 Olympic gold medalist is enjoying his experience overall, despite some observers not believing Team USA’s roster for the upcoming FIBA World Cup is particularly talented.
“The things [Rose does] can’t be taught. For us to go out there being with each other for a couple of weeks and to play with that much chemistry says a lot,” he explained. “Lot of great talent on this team. We don’t want to take it for granted. We know everyone will come out and play free when they play USA. Everyone wants to beat USA. So we’ve got to think of it like that every time we step on the floor. No team is going to take it easy on us.
“Everybody has to step up and that’s what we did. I think everyone on the team stepped up.”
Rose added his own area of improvements for the squad: “As a team, I would have to say defense. I think defensively, we really get into people. The group that really changed the game towards the end of the game, they really got into people and got turnovers, and we’re dangerous in the open court because of all the shooting that we have and all the scoring that we have. I think our job, our biggest challenge is defensively challenging ourselves every night.”