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Even today, when every aspect of the game is parsed, quantified and analyzed, there is no way to measure the psychological impact that a great shot blocker has on either his teammates or his opponents. "Guys like Anthony don't impact just with the shots they block," says Thompson. "We don't know how many times a guy who could beat his defender on the perimeter looked in there but wouldn't go because Anthony was in the back. Or took a shot and missed because he was afraid Anthony was coming. You can't put statistics on that."
There is more statistical value in a block that gives your team a possession than there is with one that flies into the concession stands, but Calipari doesn't mind either kind. "I want it to be in play, to knock it softly so we can run down [in transition], but if you knock that thing into row 8, the dude's embarrassed, he ain't coming in there anymore," says Calipari. "And now they are all shooting jump shots." (According to Cat Scratches blogger Guy Ramsey, in 31 regular-season games the Wildcats gained possession on 60.3% of Davis's blocks and scored 78 points on the ensuing possessions.)
However you add it up, Davis's presence in the paint was a big reason Kentucky held opponents to 37.5% shooting, the best in the nation and the best for a Kentucky team since 1959--60.
Davis can't explain his talent for swatting—"It just came naturally; I just had great timing," he says—but Calipari has a thought. "The real shot blockers let the guy release it and then go after the ball," he says, adding that blocking a ball before it's released often results in a foul. "It's hard because that means you can't jump early. You have to be nimble; you can't be a plodder." Davis, he adds, "has guard quickness, guard instincts. There's no slow twitch to him."
Davis doesn't purposely study other sultans of swat, but because Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant is his favorite NBA player, he also watches a lot of the Thunder's 6' 10" Serge Ibaka, who through 50 games this season led the NBA with 3.3 blocks a game. "He's blocking guys who know how to avoid getting their shots blocked," says Davis. "I watch him to see how he does it."
Davis's motivation stems from his high school years when he played guard. "I always had my shot blocked—off the backboard, to the stands, to the fifth row. That's what really made me want to block shots. I was tired of getting my own shot blocked. It was time for some revenge."
DURING THE 2008--09 SEASON, DAVIS WAS A 6' 2" SOPHOMORE guard and honor roll student playing for a small high school (210 students) on Chicago's South Side. The school, Perspectives Charter, didn't have a gym and a few years earlier hadn't had a team. Davis was a three-point specialist who had only recently started venturing into the lane because ... well, he didn't like all those shots of his ending up in the fifth row. Dunking was mostly a fantasy. "My cousins could all dunk, but I would do a layup and smack the backboard, and that was it," he says. His family nickname, given to him when he was born weighing eight pounds, one ounce, was Phat Man. (His twin sister, Antoinette, was six pounds, three ounces.)
Davis has a cousin who is 6' 8", but no one in his immediate family is exceptionally tall. His dad, Anthony Sr., is just under 6' 3"; his mom, Erainer, is 5' 9". Antoinette, now a freshman at Kentucky, topped out at 5' 7", and his big sister, Iesha, 21, whom he credits in part with teaching him the game, is 5' 10".
Yet by the spring of his junior year Davis had sprouted to 6' 8". "He never lost his coordination with his growth spurt," says Perspectives coach Cortez Hale. "He could still do everything—pass, shoot, dribble. He was just a lot taller."