NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Hornets weren't about to raise any eyebrows with their top overall NBA draft pick. The choice of Anthony Davis was so obvious that replicas of the No. 23 jersey he'll wear for New Orleans were all printed up and ready for sale the moment general manager Dell Demps made it official.
As expected, Davis became the Big Easy's most popular big man in Thursday night's NBA draft, giving fans gathered in the New Orleans Arena more of a reason to cheer than they had through most of a difficult 2011-12 season.
Davis' new teammates in New Orleans will include Duke guard Austin Rivers, whom the Hornets drafted 10th overall, as well as second-round pick Darius Miller, who won an NCAA title with Davis at Kentucky.
"We have added an incredibly talented, athletic big man with great length who is also a proven winner," Hornets coach Monty Williams said of the 6-foot-11 Davis, who is nicknamed "the unibrow."
"We felt like we needed guys who could create their own shot and we got that in Austin. I've talked about length forever and we got athleticism and length in the best player in the draft in Anthony. And then Darius was a bit of a bonus," Williams said. "We feel like we drafted the guys we wanted."
Davis has been the consensus No. 1 pick for months, so the Kentucky star has been virtually assured of playing for New Orleans since the Hornets won the NBA draft lottery a month ago.
The 19-year-old Davis, who was The Associated Press Player of the Year as a freshman, will now earn his living in the city where he helped the Wildcats win a national title last spring.
Davis was also named most outstanding player of the Final Four, tying an NCAA championship game record with six blocked shots against Kansas to go with 16 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
"The first thing I said after the (draft) lottery was it would be great to win another championship in New Orleans," Davis said. "Monty is a great coach who has played in the league and will tell you how it is. He has given me some great advice and I can't wait to get out on the court with him."
Davis, who has not only embraced his "unibrow" nickname but even registered trademarks related to it, is already a crowd favorite in New Orleans, judging by the hundreds of fans who took up the Hornets on their invitation to watch the draft inside the arena. They cheered when massive video boards showed Davis shaking Commissioner David Stern's hand at NBA draft headquarters in Newark, N.J., knowing they'll have plenty of chances to see him swatting away shots person next season.
"We look forward to him being a part of the sustained success of our franchise on and off the court," Demps said.
Davis is expected to start right away. Last year's starting center, Emeka Okafor, was traded to Washington last week, and the Hornets have not indicated that they intend to bring back free agent center Chris Kaman.
Davis, a Chicago native, is not a typical big man in that he started high school playing guard before a growth spurt turned him into a center. He can handle the ball, pass and has a smooth jump shot that has proven accurate from inside 18 feet.
Davis led the nation in blocks with 4.65 per game. His 186 total blocks set Kentucky, Southeastern Conference and NCAA freshman single-season records.
While he did not score in the national title game, that performance was an anomaly. He led the Wildcats in scoring with 14.2 points per game, as well as in rebounding with 10.4 per game and field goal percentage at .623. He recorded 20 double-doubles.
The 6-foot-4 Rivers, whose father is Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, averaged a team-high 15.5 points per game as a freshman at Duke, and could play both guard spots. Williams had said going into the draft that he wanted not only to add length inside, which he knew he would do with Davis, but also to add a guard or wing player who could create his own shot.
The Hornets hope Rivers can quickly develop into that kind of player, complementing the scoring ability of restricted free agent guard Eric Gordon, whom the Hornets intend to re-sign. Certainly, Williams knows the 19-year-old Rivers well. The Hornets and Celtics coaches have been close friends for years. The elder Rivers coached Williams three seasons (1999-2002) in Orlando, and Rivers said he's known Williams "since I can remember anything."
"It's really neat to now have him as my head coach," Rivers said. "I want to make a huge impact right away."
Demps said he received some trade offers for the 10th pick, but he stressed that the ability to add Davis and Rivers is "what we wanted."
For Williams, the selection of Rivers was personal.
"I'm not going to lie. It is different. You know, I'm looking at a kid that I watched grow up," Williams said. "But you guys know me. If he messes with the game, I'll forget his last name real quick."
The Hornets went 21-45 last season, which tied with Cleveland for the third-worst record in the NBA.
The addition of Davis, Rivers and Miller continued some recent positive momentum for the club, which was purchased this spring by New Orleans native Tom Benson, also the owner of the NFL's Saints.
Benson agreed to a lease of the New Orleans Arena running through 2024, giving the club a level of stability it has not enjoyed since being displaced by Hurricane Katrina to Oklahoma City for two seasons beginning in 2005.
Benson visited the Hornets' draft headquarters, which was set up in the team's locker room at the arena. After Davis' selection, Benson went into the part of the stadium where fans were gathered, offering a celebratory wave.