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March 30, 2012

Chicagoans Davis, Blackshear share longtime bond

NEW ORLEANS - As a high school senior in Chicago and before anyone bowed to the brow, Anthony Davis told his longtime friend Wayne Blackshear that he intended to let his conjoined eyebrows keep on growing along with his basketball career.

"He told me, 'James Harden's got "Fear the beard,"'" Blackshear said, referring to the Oklahoma City Thunder player. "He is like, "'That's going to be my trademark. I'm keeping my unibrow, and it's going to be "Fear the brow."'

"I didn't think it was going to blow up that big, but it did, though."

Blackshear, the Louisville freshman forward who will face Davis' Kentucky team on Saturday in the national semifinal at the Louisiana Superdome, is happy for Davis' success and the national attention his friend's received.

College basketball's most dangerous shot-blocker and the man with its most famous eyebrows has been the inspiration for posters, billboards, slogans and T-shirts.

But Blackshear knew Davis long before all that.

They've been friends for years, since when they were teammates on a youth club team called Chicago Select. Last year they were both high school McDonald's All-Americans, and now as collegians, they're both in the Final Four.

Blackshear said he and Davis met in fifth grade; Davis recalled it was seventh grade. Either way, it was long ago enough that when they met Blackshear, now 6 feet 5, was taller than Davis (now 6-10).

"That's like my best friend," Davis said.

Said Blackshear: "We're like brothers."

Davis said he and Blackshear haven't stayed in as close of contact during this basketball season because of their busy schedules, but he expects they'll get together the next time they're back home and celebrate that they both made the Final Four.

Davis said the Wildcats enjoyed visiting and seeing their friends on the U of L team on Thursday night during a Final Four banquet - a cordial gathering among the members of teams considered the fiercest of rivals.

"We don't have no animosity toward each other," Davis said.

Blackshear and Davis have always visited each other's homes in Chicago. Blackshear remembers frequently making the 20-minute drive to Davis' to attend his family's regular barbecues.

They also played a lot of basketball together. Davis, before he shot up from 6-2 to 6-9 during his junior year of high school, was a shooting guard, and Blackshear remembers him for his long-range touch and for winning three-point contests as a middle school player.

"Anthony could always play ball," Blackshear said. "He was just short.

"... Now he's like an amazing shot-blocker."

Davis' elite status came by way of his famed growth spurt, which has been the subject of countless stories in the media over the past two years. He retained all his long-held skills from playing guard, but he suddenly was the tallest player on the court as well.

"Every time I went over there to go see him, he just kept growing," Blackshear recalled. "The next thing I know, he's taller than me. I don't know where his growth spurt came from, but I'm glad he had it."

They became star players at different high schools - Davis at Perspectives Charter School and Blackshear at Morgan Park - and played on different elite travel teams in Chicago before their senior year.

Blackshear averaged 32.6 points and 14.6 rebounds as a senior at Morgan Park, which made the Class 3-A state finals.

Davis averaged 32 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocks at tiny Perspectives.

That's also along about the time he decided to make the unibrow "his trademark," Blackshear said.

"I said, 'You can't be serious?'" Blackshear recalled with a laugh, remembering that he thinks he at least once told Davis to shave it off. "But he kept it going, and it just blew up. He has something going."

Much like Davis, Blackshear came to college as a star recruit with a lot of promise for an impact freshman season. But he's been limited after having shoulder surgery in the fall. He didn't appear in a game until Feb. 11 and has averaged just two points and 6.5 minutes this season.

Davis respects how Blackshear has dealt with the adversity of his injury and rehabilitated.

"He's dealt with it great," Davis said.

Davis said that when Blackshear is fully healthy and playing like he did in high school, he'll be "very dangerous."

"He's a great player, can shoot, jump, rebound," Davis said.

Davis has had a superstar season at UK.

On Friday he was officially awarded the USBWA's Oscar Robertson Trophy as player of the year and named the Associated Press National Player of the Year winner. He's won multiple other player of the year honors as well.

Should Davis decide to leave for the NBA draft - where he's projected as the No. 1 overall pick - after this season, Blackshear will be happy for him.

"He worked hard for it, and he's been holding up his own this year to show that he's the No. 1 player for this year," Blackshear said.

So UK and U of L fans may hate each other unconditionally on Saturday, but it'll be a special day for a set of Chicago friends. After just one season of college basketball, they've made it to the sport's highest stage.

"Both of us are just proud for each other," Blackshear said. "We came a long way from being little, and time just went on so fast. And look at us now. It's a moment you've got to capture, and then play as hard as you can."

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