Gold medal a third 'once-in-a-lifetime' moment for Davis in 2012

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

Like previous college players picked to play for the USA Basketball “Dream Team” at the Olympics, Anthony Davis wasn’t heavily relied upon or expected to carry the team. Instead, for the first time in his basketball career, Davis’ role was best described as 12th man. In other words, the 6-foot-10 power forward was only assured of minutes if the Americans were leading by a decisive margin.

Still, the 19-year-old – who became the youngest-ever USA Basketball player to earn a gold medal Sunday – managed to provide glimpses of his impressive ability during the two-week trip to London. On a USA team filled with defense-attracting offensive weapons, it seemed like Davis was open for most of his 52 Olympics minutes of playing time. He often capitalized by diving to the rim and throwing down a dunk off an alley oop, resulting in him going 11-for-17 from the field (65 percent). Nearly all of his baskets came on slams that were set up by a USA teammate.

Davis won’t have that kind of freedom to terrorize interior defenses during the upcoming NBA season, but then again, that’s also true for virtually every member of the USA team, other than perhaps Oklahoma City’s James Harden, who has elite scorers Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to draw defenders away from him. Although Davis’ on-court experience during the 2012-13 regular season probably will not resemble his time with USA Basketball, the Hornets believe the month he spent working with the sport’s greatest pros will be invaluable.

“I think when he comes back to us, his confidence level is going to go through the roof,” Hornets head coach Monty Williams told NOLA.com. “I just think anytime you can be around those types of players, it’s going to help him grow.”

“It’s huge, just learning to play at the highest level possible,” said Hornets player development coach Kevin Hanson, who at 6-foot-10 will be working hands-on with Davis in the paint this fall. “Practicing with those guys, being around them, seeing their professionalism and experiencing the competitive nature they have. I was very, very glad to hear that Anthony got that opportunity.”

Although it seemed likely for most of Sunday’s gold medal game vs. Spain that Davis would not make an appearance, he played the last 37 seconds and grabbed the final rebound of the 107-100 victory. As time ticked down to 0:00, Davis held the ball, a moment that will be frozen in the memory of USA Basketball fans. It was a fitting way to close the NBA rookie’s debut in world-class international competition and the capper to a four-month stretch in which Davis has experienced three “once-in-a-lifetime” moments (NCAA title, No. 1 pick in NBA draft, Olympic gold medal), all since April.