Wildcat sightings in Milwaukee
Three members of a unique brotherhood celebrated a reunion on the night of Nov. 17 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
It will undoubtedly be the first of many.
National Basketball Association rookies Doron Lamb of the Milwaukee Bucks and Anthony Davis and Darius Miller of the New Orleans Hornets met for the first time as professionals and the Bucks emerged with a 117-113 victory.
Just a year ago, Lamb, Davis and Miller were carving their niche in history as teammates at the University of Kentucky.
With sophomores Lamb and Terrence Jones and freshmen Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague joining Miller, a senior, making up the Wildcats’ top six, they stormed to the program’s 45th Southeastern Conference regular -season championship with a 16-0 record and lost only a Dec. 10 game to Indiana and the SEC Tournament title contest to Vanderbilt.
Kentucky mowed down Western Kentucky, Iowa State, Indiana, Baylor and then Louisville – all except Louisville by double digits – along the NCAA tournament trail before defeating Kansas 67-59. Lamb scored a team-high 22 points while Davis grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds and accounted for six of Kentucky’s NCAA championship game record 11 blocked shots.
Davis became only the fourth freshman to win the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award, joining Utah’s Arnie Ferrin (1944), Louisville’s Pervis Ellison (1986) and Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony (2003). Davis was joined on the all-tournament team by Lamb and Kidd-Gilchrist.
In the days that followed the Wildcats’ eighth NCAA championship conquest, Lamb, Jones, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague opted to join Miller and declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft.
Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist made history, becoming the first college teammates to be selected with the first two picks in the draft as Davis went to the Hornets and Kidd-Gilchrist to the Charlotte Bobcats. Jones was chosen 18th by Houston, Teague 29th by Chicago, Lamb 42nd by Milwaukee and Miller 46th by New Orleans.
Davis’ path to the NBA was a quantum leap. He stood 6-feet-2 inches when he entered Perspectives Charter High in Chicago, graduated at 6-10 and now stands 6-11 – and owns a 7-4 wingspan and a 33-inch vertical leap.
Lamb’s journey began at Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he played for two seasons before transferring to Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Va., which has produced 24 NBA Draft choices.
Lamb, like many of the students who attend Oak Hill, experienced a bit of culture shock when he first arrived there.
“There are no phones there,” Lamb said. “It was crazy. It’s in the middle of nowhere. The airport is two hours away. You can’t escape or anything like that. It’s a small campus, and they’ve got a boys-and-girls line that you can’t cross or you get kicked out.”
Lamb realizes that his Oak Hill experience launched his career, though.
“I had a great basketball experience there,” he said. “We had a great coaching staff and a great team.
“My junior year, we were 40-1 and my senior year we were 36-4. And we got a lot of Jordan gear. I really liked that.”
In February of 2010, during Lamb’s senior season, he dropped 49 points on St. Peter’s Prep during the Prime Time Shootout.
“The guys kept going to me and I kept hitting almost every shot I took,” Lamb recalled. “I was just playing my game. I was trying to win the game, but we lost that one.”
Among those who witnessed Lamb’s performance was longtime recruiting analyst Tom Konchalski, who said of Lamb, “He’s an assassin … a master of quiet domination.”
Lamb became a McDonald’s All-American – scoring 12 points in the McDonald’s All-American Game -- and a Jordan Brand All-American before moving on to Lexington and becoming an instant impact player in his freshman season at Kentucky.
He averaged 12.3 points per game and shot an SEC-best 48.6 percent from 3-point territory. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and was chosen Yahoo! Sports' National Sixth Man of the Year. He helped the Wildcats win the SEC Tournament and advance to the Final Four before losing in the national semifinals to eventual national champion UConn.
Lamb was quickly introduced to the obsession over Kentucky basketball not only in Lexington, but throughout the Bluegrass State.
“They have great basketball fans there,” Lamb said. “We sold out every game home and away. Everybody was trying to beat us. We had to go out and play hard from the beginning of every game.”
The obsession only got greater in Lamb’s sophomore season.
“It was crazy on campus,” he said. “You couldn’t even walk to your classes. We took a lot of online classes so we didn’t have to go on campus so much. You can barely walk around there because people were always coming up and trying to get autographs and stuff. It was out-of-hand.”
Lamb took it upon himself to help Kentucky coach John Calipari’s celebrated recruiting class made a successful transition to the college game and the hype that accompanied it.
“At the beginning of the season, the freshmen were a little nervous about what was going to happen – how the games were going to be, what the crowds were going to be like,” Lamb said. “We told them in advance what was going to happen so they were ready for it.”
Davis appreciated that help – and the fact that Lamb and Miller came back to Lexington rather than entering the NBA Draft.
“For those guys to stay and trust Coach Cal’s system and come back and win a national championship was great for them,” Davis said. “We had a lot of great times together.”
Lamb remembers his first glimpses of Davis on the basketball court.
“I remember Anthony when he had no post moves,” Lamb said. “All he did was rebound and block shots. During last season, (assistant) coach Kenny Payne worked with him on his offense and he became very confident. We kept getting him more and more touches in the post and he got way better.”
Davis said Lamb’s presence on the court helped him elevate his game.
“Doron was good,” Davis said. “He definitely can shoot the ball. He knocked down shots and gave me freedom to go down low and score the ball. He put a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Lamb was impressed at Davis’ improvement – and how he retained the guard skills he mastered before his growth spurt.
“He used to be a point guard and a shooting guard when he was 5-11,” Lamb said of Davis. “Now he’s 6-11 and he’s a big man, but he still has those guard skills in his game.
“And he’s always been so laid-back. He just plays his game and lets the game come to him. He goes out there and plays defense and now he can score, too.”
Davis made that clear during his first appearance in Milwaukee, scoring a game-high 28 points on 10-of-14 field-goal shooting and going eight for nine from the free-throw line. He emerged averaging 16 points and 8.3 rebounds per outing.
Lamb, meanwhile, has seen limited opportunities with the Bucks, playing in just four of the team’s first eight games and logging a total of 29 minutes. He scored his first NBA points on a basket Nov. 7 against Memphis.
Davis is confident that Lamb will answer when opportunity knocks.
“Doron is a great guy, a great shooter and a great player,” Davis said. “He’s a cool guy to get to know. People here will love him.
“When Monta and Brandon are driving the ball, they’ll be able to kick it out to him and he’ll knock down shots. He fits right in. I think he’ll be great for his organization.”