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The best PG?
by Jason McIntyre / November 20, 2003

Arrivals to the NBA come in various forms, like a breakout game on national television, a game-winning shot in the playoffs, a max contract -- just to name a few.

Monday, Baron Davis showed off his Louisiana home on the wildly popular MTV show, "Cribs." Tuesday, the NBA sent a camera crew across the Hudson River to Continental Airlines Arena to get Davis, the third-leading scorer in the NBA, to tape one of those, "I love this game!" segments for an impending commercial.

Then, Baron Davis went out, nearly hung a triple-double on the best point guard in the NBA, Jason Kidd -- in Kidd's home, no less -- and led the New Orleans Hornets to an 88-85 win over the New Jersey Nets.

If you didn't know, Baron Davis has officially arrived as one of the elite point guards in the NBA.

Steve Francis? Win something first.

Stephon Marbury? Share the ball.

Steve Nash? You can't hang.

Healthy and in his fifth season in the league, Davis, is enjoying the best stretch of his NBA career. He's got the Hornets buzzing, off to an 8-3 start with wins over the Lakers and Nets.

"I think he's playing at that [elite] level right now," said Hornets coach Tim Floyd. "He's penetrating better, he's getting more players involved, and he's been terrific defensively."

Davis, a humble, well-spoken, 6-foot-2 guard who is built like a running back, credits his fearlessness and defense to growing up in South Central, Los Angeles.

"I used to always play with the older kids," Davis said after a magnificent 25-point, 12-assist, 9-rebound effort in the win over New Jersey. "I was too small to get in their games, but my cousin would bet other kids that I could steal the ball from the older kids. So I'd guard them, and I'd pick the older men all the time. I would rip them every time."

It's no wonder Davis was leading the NBA in steals at over three per game heading into the game against the Nets. And he had Kidd on lockdown -- limiting him to six points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.

Although Davis now has a great NBA body, he wasn't always this chiseled. As a freshman in high school, he was a mere 5-foot-3, "buck 25" -- 125 pounds. Still, Davis exuded confidence.

The setting: Freshman year, homecoming game. His school, Crossroads, was losing in the fourth quarter.
As Baron remembered: "I was so small, the opposing fans were calling me 'diapers.' In the huddle, I said, 'Coach, can I take over now?' We were losing, and we had tried everything. Coach said, 'Go ahead, I've been waiting.' And I had like the next seven points, and like four steals in a row, and we won. It was crazy."

Against the Nets, Davis displayed the same confidence. Unstoppable quickness with the ball, a slick handle, and he went around Kidd and every other defender the Nets sent at him with ease. Davis offered textbook examples of how to drive and dish.

"If I get the ball on the wing, I know that I can get to the rack on anybody," Davis said. "If I can finish, then that's going to make everyone commit to me, and I have the utmost confidence in my teammates knocking down threes. I just penetrate at will. Any opportunity I get, I'm taking it."

As a sophomore, Davis grew to 5-foot-5, but his diminutive frame nearly kept from the prestigious Nike summer camp, which is one of those summer AAU basketball events where the college coaches can notice you.

"I wasn't even supposed to go to Nike camp," Davis recalled. "I had to beg my way in. I didn't have the height, my school was tiny, and people didn't think I was good enough. I got in and finished top 10 underclassmen."

The heavyweights, Duke, and UNC, came calling, as did UCLA.

Davis grew to 5-foot-9 and was considered one of the top point guards in California after averaging 13 points per game as a junior. In September of his senior year, Davis orally committed to UCLA, and the Bruin faithful rejoiced. Less than a month later, trouble surfaced -- it was revealed that two days after Davis gave UCLA the commitment, his sister, Lisa Hodoh, purchased a relatively bargain-basement Chevy Blazer from then-UCLA coach Jim Harrick.

The NCAA launched a formal inquiry, and although no wrongdoing was found, it was hiccup that not only prevented Davis from signing a letter of intent with UCLA, but also played an indirect role in the firing of Harrick in early November.

After the whole incident blew over, and Davis was named a Parade All-American after a banner senior year, he went on live television during halftime of a Los Angeles Clippers-Utah Jazz NBA playoff game to announce it would indeed be UCLA, and not Kansas.

Davis went on to enjoy two good seasons at UCLA before leaping to the NBA.

Now that he can look back on it, Davis was part of a bumper crop of talented players to graduate high school from California in 1997 -- along with Chris Burgess (Duke/Utah), Kenny Brunner (Georgetown/Fresno State), Jason & Jarron Collins (Stanford), and Schea Cotton (Long Beach State).

Where are they now? Besides the Collins twins, who play with New Jersey and Utah, respectively, the rest are missing in action.

Burgess was the unstoppable big man, Brunner the better point guard than Davis, and Cotton the exciting wing player. Why didn't they make it?

"I don't like to say because I'm friends with them," Davis said. "Some people take different roads in life. I took the road less traveled, basically. The road nobody wants to take. You have to sacrifice a lot of things in life. This is not an easy occupation, and it's not an easy place to get to. There's a lot of people out there that are more talented than me or Jason Kidd and they could have been here. I had good grandparents and I was raised the right way. Going to a school like Crossroads (a private school in the posh city of Santa Monica) kept me out of trouble."

Now he's just a bundle of trouble for every NBA point guard.

Jason McIntyre is a a freelance journalist in New York City and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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