I have been covering high school basketball for 50 years and I can't remember a player who has risen so rapidly from obscurity to national prominence faster than Anthony Davis. Neither can Bob Gibbons nor Van Coleman, the national recruiting analysts who have been closer to the subject than anyone else.
Davis, a 6-10 junior at Perspectives, a charter school in the Chicago Public League's Blue-West Division, has literally come out of nowhere, as if Kobe Bryant had been discovered on a playground on the West Side. No college coach or analyst or member of the media has ever seen him play in a high school game.
But Davis made an instant and compelling and eye-opening impact at three summer events in Virginia and Indiana and all of a sudden, as fast as you can say "Who is that kid?", he is ranked as the No. 7 player in the class of 2011 by one scouting service and No. 9 in another, one spot behind the heralded Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park.
This isn't to say that Davis doesn't deserve that elite recognition. After one look, Syracuse offered a scholarship. As fast as they could dial a telephone, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois State offered, too. The list figures to grow. He has the wingspan of a 7-footer who reminds old-timers of former Manley star Russell Cross.
More specifically, Davis could be compared to 7-footer Meyers Leonard of Robinson, who also made his reputation on the AAU circuit while leading his team to the Class 2A state championship. Davis made his bones by playing for Tai Streets' Mean Streets AAU program, not by competing against Wells or Juarez or Kelvyn Park in the lowly Blue-West.
Locally, Joe Henricksen or City/Suburban Hoops Report and Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye have been wowed by Davis' sudden emergence. But they wonder if all of the hoopla is a case of too much, too soon. However, everybody agrees that Davis could be as good as advertised, a gifted 6-10 phenom, the kind of prospect that colleges can't afford to bide their time evaluating. Can Kentucky and Kansas be far behind?
"I was a little surprised (Davis) was rated that high nationally," Henricksen said. "I figured he would be a top 50 kid, maybe in the top 30 range. But his combination of skill, size and length is so intriguing. He is certainly a promising prospect with a huge upside who is only going to get better.
"It's true in saying you really can't project how high of a ceiling he has or where he will max out at due to his limited time playing against high-quality competition. I'm not going to pretend to be a national evaluator. I think it's a near-impossible job as I see how tough it is to cover just one state."
How tough? Henricksen admits he can't understand how Davis can be rated No. 7 or 9 in the nation in one class while Leonard couldn't crack the top 30 in another class. "Either I am way off on my player evaluations or there is one huge difference between the class of 2010 and the class of 2011 nationally," he said.
Meanwhile, the Schmidts prefer to reserve judgment until they see a lot more of Davis. They argue that rankings serve a purpose for the media and fans but they insist they are "useless" from a recruiting standpoint. They believe Davis' current ratings are "overhyped and insane," that evaluators must look at the whole season and process of development against all types of competition before coming to an accurate conclusion.
"A kid who blows up like that and then is raed as high as No. 7...wow, that is a big too much," Roy Schmidt said. "Everyone wants to discover the new big kid. That is why the whole process has become a joke. Kids' ratings and reputations are made during the spring and summer based upon 2-3 high-profile performances. As you know, there have been so many instances of kids getting to the next level and disappointing.
"This is why recruiting classes underachieve. This is why college coaches get fired. This is why so many kids transfer and why there is so much Internet speculation on available scholarships. This is why we hate rankings and focus on our scouting evaluations. Is the kid a high major prospect who can play at any top 20 program? That is way more valid to ask than if he is a top 20 player nationally. Who cares? So many NBA draftees were never close to being ranked as top 20-30 high school players."