All of the controversy regarding his recruitment notwithstanding, 6-10 senior Anthony Davis Jr. of Chicago Perspectives by all accounts is a special basketball player. The fact that virtually nobody heard about the once obscure youngster until a few months ago only adds meat and potatoes to what could be a saga of legendary proportions.
There may have been doubts and skepticism early. But no longer, certainly not from anyone who has seen him play more than once or twice. Syracuse had barely seen Davis work up a sweat before becoming the first school to offer a scholarship. Kentucky, Ohio State, Duke and North Carolina called. His three-year-old high school, buried in the Public League's Blue-West Division, quickly attracted invitations to three major events.
So how good is he? Is he the best big man Illinois has produced since Kevin Garnett? Is he better than Hall of Famer Dan Issel? Is he better than Russell Cross?
Davis is the most compelling basement-to-the-penthouse story I've encountered in 50 years of covering high school basketball in Illinois.
Longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hoopmasters.com, who has observed Davis about a dozen times, said he rank either No. 1, 2 or 3 on his list of the top players in the class of 2011, along with 6-7 Michael Gilchrist of Elizabeth, N.J., and 6-8 Quincy Miller of Winston-Salem, N.C., who was born in North Chicago.
"I'm leaning toward the top spot because of his still immense upside and potential to improve his overall game, athletic gifts and strength," Coleman said. "He has a similar skill set to Derrick Favors (the nation's No. 1 player two years ago and an NBA lottery pick this year) except he is a better shooter and has quicker feet. He isn't as strong, however.
"He has a lot of Sam Perkins and Marcus Camby to his game. Plus he can dominate the game on the defensive end of the court. That could be the separator when I finalize my national rankings."
Gilchrist already is committed to Kentucky. Can you imagine the reaction if the top three players in the nation--Davis, Gilchrist and Miller--all end up at Kentucky?
Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye recall how the 6-11 Cross led Manley to the state championship in 1980 and they believe Davis "is every bit as good if not better."
But they point out that Davis is a totally different breed of player in comparison to Cross, who was more of a Bill Russell type in that he dominated on defense with his intimidating, rebounding and shot-blocking ability.
"Cross played in an era where high school big men were almost solely back-to-the-basket post players," Roy Schmidt said. "Davis, on the other hand, defines the new generation of big men--aircraft carriers who also have the ability to play on the perimeter, face up and convert shots from behind the three-point line and handle the ball like a point guard."
The Schmidt brothers compare Davis' defensive game to former Farragut star Kevin Garnett and claim he is a mixture of Tracy McGrady and the late Ben Wilson offensively.
"He is the best big man that the state of Illinois and the Chicago Public League has seen since Garnett (in 1994-95) and one of the five best players we have ever seen in the Public League in our 25 years of scouting," Harv Schmidt said. "It is a list that includes Wilson, Marcus Liberty, Garnett and Derrick Rose. There is nobody in the class of 2011 in Illinois who is even close to Davis talent-wise, nobody."
Davis may have one shortcoming, however, one that almost certainly will be corrected as soon as he makes his commitment to a college. He is reported to weigh 215 or 220 pounds. According to Perspectives coach Cortez Hale, Davis is closer to 195 pounds. He needs to gain 20-25 pounds to play at the big-time college level and the NBA.
"He is a legitimate small forward in college," Hale said. "He can take people off the dribble, can shoot from NBA range and has great passing ability. He has played guard most of his life.
"My challenge to him is he has to play hard all the time in high school. In the Blue-West, he has to play against Juarez, Kelvyn Park, Clark, Austin and Best Practice (hardly Simeon, Whitney Young, Morgan Park and Marshall). He will have a huge target on his back. He will have to prove how good he is every time he goes on the floor."
Perspectives, a charter school, doesn't have a home gym. It plays its "home" games at Taylor Park, 47th and State. Hale, in his first season as head coach, is looking for a larger venue.