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Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds in New Orleans' 111-105 win against the Atlanta Hawks. (Associated Press)

Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds in New Orleans' 111-105 win against the Atlanta Hawks. (Associated Press)

Young Davis is training on the job

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 12:29 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

As March Madness takes center stage, it’s hard to believe it has been two years since Anthony Davis ruled college basketball.

Even harder to believe that had he stayed in school, Davis would still be just a junior at Kentucky.

Instead, he is a second-year standout in the NBA, an All-Star already and the unquestioned leader of a young New Orleans team trying to turn its fortunes around.

Having seen his stock rise under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament, Davis now continues to grow as a professional well under professional basketball’s radar.

For the second straight year his team won’t make the playoffs, won’t even get close.

You can turn a college team from a bust to a champion with a single recruiting class, but it takes time and draft picks to make a winner in the NBA.

Davis was just the first piece to a winning puzzle for the Pelicans.

However, he is the biggest of pieces, becoming the cornerstone for what the franchise wants to become.

“He can do a lot of things,” New Orleans head coach Monte Williams said recently of his 6-10 athletic center. “He has already come a long way.”

Two nights ago it was Davis who led the Pelicans to a win over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, gaining even more respect from the game’s best LeBron James in the process.

“He’s spectacular. He’s getting better every single day,” James told USA Today of Davis. “When you know you’re a star and your team looks at you as a leader, as a star, you make plays and that’s what he’s doing.”

Davis finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds against Miami, the third straight game he has posted such numbers.

When you watch Davis play it is hard to believe he just turned 21 two weeks ago.

It is also hard not to wonder just how good Kentucky would be this year if Davis had stayed in school.

Davis is one of the many to play the one-and-done game, but while others have struggled with the move he has not. New Orleans made him the No. 1 pick overall just two months after he led the Wildcats to their latest national championship.

Ironically, the Final Four was played in New Orleans that year, giving the town an early look at their newest star.

However, in that championship game, Davis was not a factor scoring. Instead, he played a bigger role on the boards and with his defense, never once taking a play off because he wasn’t getting the basketball.

That is the way he plays now, seemingly consumed with winning and not numbers even as those numbers continue to grow.

“I don’t care what I score as long as we win,” Davis said after the game. “But if it comes to me, I’m not going to turn down any shots. Whoever has the hot hand, the team goes to them to make sure they stay in their groove.”

Davis has raised his numbers from his rookie season significantly.

He is averaging 21.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots a game, up from last year’s 13.5, 8.2, 1.8 performance. In his last 10 games he has scored at a 27.7 pace.

And not only James has noticed. After the Miami game, Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra told ESPN’s Michael Wallace “This kid will be competing for an MVP very soon.”

Not bad for a kid who could still be a part of March Madness if he wanted to.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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