Chicago – Behind the wheel of his well-traveled 2004 silver Infinity Q35, Daniel Poneman battled with a range of emotions. Returning home from a tournament in Merrillville, Ind., one of the hundreds of schoolboy basketball tournaments he often attended to assess talent, Poneman ran through his feelings: Excitement. Incredulity. Disbelief.
As he tooled northward along Interstate 94 toward the den of his Evanston, Ill., home just a block and a half from fabled Lakeshore Drive and the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan, Poneman pondered what he’d just witnessed.
Three years earlier, Poneman, then a high school freshman, had seen Anthony Davis, 5 feet 9, about 130 pounds, playing for an eighth-grade AAU basketball team in Chicago, a wiry sixth man who wore goggles.
Having already created a website in which he tracked Illinois high school basketball recruits, Poneman was at that time branching out, organizing an eighth-grade all-star game, and he was scouting talent. The Chicago Select team had some intriguing possibilities Poneman wanted to see.
Anthony Davis wasn’t one of them.
“They were the premier eighth-grade team,” Poneman recalled. “I watched their team play about three or four games that weekend and I remember having conversations with Anthony’s mom, and telling the (other) moms, ‘Watch out for that Anthony kid.’ ”
The pronouncement likely drew a polite chuckle.
And though the invitation was extended, Anthony Davis couldn’t make Poneman’s eighth-grade all-star game.
“Eighth-grade graduation or something like that,” Poneman said. “I put him in my rankings as the 30th-best eighth-grader in the state. And then we fell out of touch.
“Flash forward about three years and I get a couple of calls. ‘There’s this really tall kid that Meanstreets has. I don’t know if he’s good, but you should check him out.’ They said his name was Anthony Davis. At the time, I didn’t make the connection that it was the same Anthony Davis. I hadn’t seen him in three years.”
The transformation Poneman had witnessed earlier that day in Merrillville was astonishing.
Now nearly a foot taller, still slim, but with long arms that were swatting away shots and creating fast breaks which complemented a silky long-range shooting touch, Davis left Poneman slack-jawed.
As the concrete ribbon of roadway whirred underneath him that evening, Poneman realized what he had to do: inform the basketball world he’d seen a great player, the player who would eventually become the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft by the New Orleans Hornets.
“It was the first AAU tournament after his junior year,” Poneman said, adding that some of Davis’ teammates on the Meanstreets team had suggested Poneman come see what, to that point, few major college coaches or recruiters had witnessed. “I show up and I’m like, ‘Wait. Hold up. The kid you keep telling me about is the same Anthony from Chicago select?’ He looks the same, just stretched out.
“Immediately his mom recognized me and we sat down. After watching about a quarter of his game, I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ I filmed the rest of the game, rushed home, edited up highlights of that game and an interview I did with him afterward. Overnight, I sent it out to every high major college I knew. Then I made calls all the next day.”
In a matter of hours, word was out.
Anthony Davis had been discovered.
It nearly never happened.