NEW ORLEANS – One shot.
That’s what Anthony Davis shot from the floor as Kentucky knocked off Kansas 67-59 in Monday night’s national title game. Mind you, that’s the National Player of the Year shooting 1-for-10. That the Wildcats were able to win this game in fairly dominating fashion — they were up by as much as 18 in the first half and 16 in the second half and never let the Jayhawks get closer than five down the stretch — without getting any offensive production from their best player should give you a sense of just how good this Kentucky team is.
Davis doesn’t need to score. His value to Kentucky goes well beyond his offensive production and his freakish ability to dunk anything within five feet of the rim. He earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award despite being his team’s fifth-leading scorer because he finished with 16 boards, six blocks, five assists and three steals in the final.
“It’s not hard to take a backseat, especially with playing with a great group of guys,” Davis said. “All these guys could play. I knew I was struggling. So I told to them, I’m going to defend and rebound, you all make all the points.”
And they did. Doron Lamb finished with 22 points. Marquis Teague had 14 points and three assists. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist chipped in with 11 and six boards. Terrence Jones had nine. All four of those guys will be drafted, and it could be as soon as this year. Darius Miller will get drafted as well. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist may end up going first and second.
Do the math, and Kentucky has six NBA Draft picks on their roster, and there is a real possibility that all six end up going in the first round of this year’s draft.
Kentucky set the record this season for number of wins in a season with 38, which lends credence to the argument that this group had one of the greatest single seasons of all-time.
But is this one of the greatest teams of all-time?
Frankly, it’s not a comparison that can be made. The reason that this championship is such a big deal is that it is not only the first time that Calipari has won, but it proves that it is possible to win a title by embracing the one-and-done freshmen.
But they are still freshmen. And regardless of how talented the freshmen are, they are not going to be able to matchup with some of the best players in the history of the sport when those players are upperclassmen.
Think about it: what would senior year Patrick Ewing do to freshman year Anthony Davis? What would Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon do to Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? What would the ’96 Kentucky team do to this team? I’m not even convinced that they would beat the 2005 or 2009 North Carolina teams. I think that the 2004 UConn team and the 1999 Duke teams would handle them as well.
Ten years down the road, we’ll probably look back on this team and wonder at the collection of talent that Calipari put together. Davis has a chance to be a once-in-a-decade talent. Kidd-Gilchrist has a chance to be an all-star caliber player. Jones too. But they are all young, no where near the player they will eventually become.
Back in 2010, Kentucky sent five players to the first round of the NBA Draft and Calipari said on live TV that it was the greatest day in the history of Kentucky basketball. His point was that those five first round draft picks would create a flood of talented freshmen entering the program. It would put them in a situation where they will always have the talent on the roster to compete for the national title. He believed then that it would lead to a dynasty, so to speak, where the Wildcats would field a different team each and every season that spends the year in the top ten and makes a run in the NCAA tournament.
With that would come their share of national titles, but he would be competing for those national titles with a freshmen-laden team year in and year out. In other words, Calipari is never going to field a team in Rupp Arena that will be legitimately considered among the best ever.
As long as he is hanging banners, that won’t matter.