Dick Jerardi: Kentucky's freshman stars are part of a new breed

Posted: June 29, 2012

AS THE final seconds of Kentucky's national championship ticked away in New Orleans, I caught myself wondering how good this team might have become in a different time. Can you imagine Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as seniors or even juniors? UK was not that far away from an unbeaten season with two freshmen stars.

I get that it is not reality and never will be again. Still, dreaming remains legal.

It is also fair to say it is much easier to win in this era, because so few teams have veteran NBA-level talent. Thus, comparisons to great college teams are impossible in this era. Still, these young Wildcats won for reasons beyond talent. They were a wonderful "team" in the best sense of the term.

The Davis factor

Davis is the best college big man I have seen since Tim Duncan. And we know how that turned out.

Will Davis win four championships? I don't know that, but New Orleans just improved 20 games overnight. He is that good.

Seeing Davis on television does not give any indication of his athletic ability. You have to be in the gym to see the whole panorama. I saw him live twice in November and again at the Final Four. He was really good when I first saw him, off the charts 5 months later. If he continues to improve at that rate, I see Hall of Fame.

I talked to one general manager who thinks he will be better than Dwight Howard. I agree. Howard is all power, a great rebounder and shot blocker. But he does not have Davis' basketball skill. Howard is an old-fashioned true center. Davis is a hybrid who can guard just about anybody and affect just about any shot — from layups to threes.

I never saw him out of position defensively, which speaks to his basketball IQ. There were times when I would notice him on one side of the floor, watch the ball on the other side and, suddenly, Davis would just appear next to the ball. He is so fast and so smooth that he really does not remind me of anybody.

His new arena is just out the back door of the Superdome. He should have just stayed in town. He won't be leaving for 15 years.

The game that wasn't

President Obama picked North Carolina over Kentucky for the national championship. If Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall did not get hurt, the president might have gotten it right.

How strong were these two teams? Seven of the first 18 picks were from UNC or UK. When Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist went 1-2, it marked the first time players from the same school went with the first and second picks.

Only one player from outside the "Big Six" conferences went in the first 18 picks — Weber State point guard Damian Lillard. The Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East had 13 of those picks.

Magic/A-10 connection

The bizarre Dwight Howard saga continues in Orlando. How that ends, nobody knows.

What the Magic does have is Atlantic 10 Players of the Year, 8 years apart. Jameer Nelson has to decide Friday whether to opt in or opt out of the final year of his contract. If Nelson stays as the Magic's point guard (and he has said he would like to finish his career in Orlando), he will get to play with Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure), who absolutely blew up in the final weeks of his senior season.

Young backcourts

I am guessing Maurice Harkless and Arnett Moultrie are the first of many moves necessary for the Sixers to remain a factor in the East. Given what is going on around them, they will need to make good moves.

Cleveland now has an athletic, powerful, young backcourt in Kyrie Irving and Philly's Dion Waiters.

Nobody is any faster than Washington's John Wall, but he can't shoot at all. So, Florida's Bradley Beal was the perfect complement for Wall's penetration.

Do I expect the Cavs and Wizards to make the 2013 playoffs? Not really, but I don't think it is completely out of the question.

Most intriguing player

Has to be Iowa State's Royce White, a 6-8 forward with every skill in the game. He rumbles end-to-end a bit like Charles Barkley. Like Chuck, he can also rebound. He is not Charles, but he is really good. He was the only player to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals. Kentucky could not guard him in the NCAA Tournament. Sounds like a top-five pick.

Alas, White has an anxiety disorder. He is especially scared of flying. He also happens to be a brilliant kid, with varied interests way beyond hoops. If he can overcome his issues, look out. Houston may have gotten a steal at No. 16, right after your Sixers took Harkless.

This and that

Given Jared Sullinger's back situation, I was thinking a perfect fit would be a team whose championship window won't remain open much longer. If you wonder about a premium talent being around for the long haul who can really help in the short term, why not go for it? So, the Celtics' picking the Ohio State big man at No. 21 made perfect sense. Along with Syracuse's Fab Melo, the Celtics suddenly have some post scoring and post defense to go along with that veteran perimeter skill.

Got to think Michael Jordan saw a bit of Scottie Pippen in Kidd-Gilchrist, at least on the defensive end. MKG, of course, does not have Pippen's skill (who does?), but he does have his motor.

Toronto is going hard after Steve Nash, hoping the great point guard wants to finish his career in his native Canada. If they get Nash, I think the Raptors, with some good, young players already on the roster, University of Washington wing Terrence Ross (drafted at No. 8) and Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas, become dangerous.

Freshmen (Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Florida's Bradley Beal) went 1-2-3 for the first time.

It has been 20 years since a St. John's player went as high as Harkless. That was the late Malik Sealy (14th). Remember when St. John's used to matter?

Contact Dick Jerardi at jerardd@phillynews.com.

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