Power forward Anthony Davis termed his return to Lexington, Ky., where he played one season and won the national title with the University of Kentucky, as a business trip.
The Pelicans, fresh off a preseason victory over Oklahoma City on Thursday in Tulsa, Okla., play the Washington Wizards at 6 p.m. Saturday at Rupp Arena, looking to push their record to 6-0. A sold-out crowd of 24,000 awaits.
Davis and injured Pelicans small forward Darius Miller played together on the 2011-12 Wildcats, and Wizards point guard John Wall played there in 2009-10.
“It’s going to be fun to play again at Rupp Arena in a real game situation,” Davis said.
But he made it clear he was there to continue preparing for the regular season.
“We’re there for a business trip,” he said “Just because I went there, it’s cool, but we’re still trying to win the game. I can’t go out there and act like I’m still in college. It’s no different than any other game.”
Davis has had an excellent preseason, prompting speculation he’ll have a breakout 2013-14. He’s averaging 23.2 points on 53.0 percent shooting, 6.8 rebounds (including 2.4 offensive), 2.0 blocked shots and 1.8 steals in 28.6 minutes.
Davis used the offseason to work with weights and on skills enhancement with the Pelicans, and he also spent time in U.S. Olympic Team practice. But he said that he, like the remade Pelicans, still have a lot of room for improvement. Three preseason games remain before the Oct. 30 season opener against Indiana.
“There’s still a lot of stuff that’s correctable — not just for me, but for the team,” said Davis, who made two free throws and blocked a shot that sealed the victory against Oklahoma City. “We have to cut down our turnovers. I have to do a better job of post defense, handling the ball.”
Things have changed since Davis helped UK win the 2012 championship in New Orleans. He was the first pick of the NBA draft and later that summer won a gold medal as the youngest player on the U.S. Olympic team. He shook off injuries, had a promising season and made the NBA all-rookie first team.
In Davis and Wall, the game will feature two former No. 1 picks. Although they didn’t play in games together at Kentucky, they aren’t strangers on the court.
Davis said he’s sure they played in pick-up games the summer before his freshman year. And at Team USA workouts this summer, they were teammates on the Blue team — which lost to the White squad coached by the Pelicans’ Monty Williams.
Most recently, they competed in a charity game Sept. 10 at Rupp, with Davis making a 65-foot shot to end the first half.
“He’s fast, and he can score the ball,” Davis said. “His shot has gotten a lot better. He’s a great passer, very athletic, so it will be fun going against him.”
When Davis played at Kentucky, he led the nation in blocked shots, swatting four per game, and was a terrific rebounder. That was the key to the Wildcats being a championship team, and he was the consensus college player of the year.
But in doing so, coach John Calipari said, Davis sacrificed his game.
Fans rarely saw Davis break out offensively. During his NBA rookie season, he played nearly the same way. Now, though, he is much more offensive, with a consistent jump shot being the most noticeable difference.
Miller is from Maysville, Ky., about an hour’s drive from Lexington. He is recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot and will be out anywhere from early November to early December. He said he was looking forward to the Wildcats’ Midnight Madness start of practice, which was set for the wee hours Saturday morning.
“I wish I could play (against Washington),” he said. “It would have been fun, but it will be good to see everybody.”