Paolo Banchero knew Thursday would be a special day, the start of his NBA career.
He had no idea about the plans for the Orlando Magic, the team selected the first overall in the NBA draft that night. When he found out, minutes before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called his name, he could not believe it.
“This is not even a dream,” Banchero said. “I feel like this is a fantasy. I dreamed of being in the NBA, but being the No. 1 overall – this is crazy.”
The Magic selected Banchero, a forward from Duke University, with the top pick in Thursday’s draft. He is a 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward whose mother, Rhonda Smith-Banchero, played in the WNBA. He was on guard earlier in his basketball career, playing football and basketball at O’Dea High School in Seattle.
In the minutes before his name was called, Banchero sat at a table on the floor of the Barclays Center, showing no emotion in his face. The magic was on the clock, and word began to spread that Banchero might be their choice. Cameras swarmed around him, but he did not respond externally. Only when he heard his name did his expression change.
He lowered his head, looked up and smiled with tears in his eyes.
“I told everyone I would not cry no matter what choice I was made,” Banchero said. “It just hit me. I couldn’t stop it.”
In his only season at Duke, Banchero averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game and was named Rookie of the Year at the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Elections to the rest of the top five: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren No. 2 for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. to the Houston Rockets as No. 3, Iowa’s Keegan Murray to the Sacramento Kings as No. 4 and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey to the Detroit Pistons as No. 5.
Three prospects were thought to have differed at the top of this year’s draft: Banchero, Holmgren and Smith.
Holmgren nodded and smiled subtly when he heard Banchero’s name called first. When Silver called his name, Holmgren broke out in a wide smile and stopped for handshakes and long embraces with his family members.
“I have a thousand emotions to describe this moment,” Holmgren said during an interview aired in the Brooklyn arena. “It’s surreal and everything I expected.”
Holmgren, 20, is a skinny, seven-foot-tall center who grew up in Minneapolis and was named Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in 2021. He was a high school teammate with Jalen Suggs, whom Magic named fifth overall in 2021. They each spent one season at Gonzaga.
Holmgren led Gonzaga to a record 28-4 and averaged 14.1 points per game while making 60.7 percent of his field-goal attempts. He also averaged 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. Gonzaga participated in the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, but was upset in the quarterfinals.
In the days before the draft, rumors circulated in media reports that Orlando had decided to select Smith as the first overall. While Smith was waiting for his name to be called, he looked disappointed. When Silver finally announced his name, another customer, Louisiana States Tari Eason, who was playing in the same conference, jumped out of the seat to clap for Smith.
“I know it was an opportunity, so when it did not happen, I was surprised,” Smith said of the prospect of being selected as the first overall. “You know, all the guys to pick are great players. They bring a lot to the table. It was like I said in the other interviews: It was a coin flip. So when it happened, you know, I was just happy. on their behalf, clapped for them and just waited to have my name called. ”
Smith, 19, spent a season in Auburn following a distinguished high school basketball career in Georgia. He played for the same Amateur Athletic Union team as another No. 1 pick of Magic: Dwight Howard. Smith’s father, also known as Jabari Smith, spent parts of four seasons in the NBA in the early 2000s.
Jabari Smith Jr. was last season named Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year and a second-team all-American. Smith is a 6-foot-10 power forward with the ability to shoot from the perimeter. He made 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers and averaged 16.9 points per game at Auburn.
The first surprise of the night was the selection of Murray by Kings as No. 4, given the expectation that Banchero, Holmgren and Smith would go in some order in the top three. The crowd at the Barclays Center broke out at the announcement.
Murray is the highest-ranked Hawkeye in the school’s history. The 6-foot-8 forward achieved consensus first-team all-American honors last season and finished in fourth place in Division I with 23.5 points per game. match. He led the Hawkeyes to a 26-10 record and a first-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Ivey spent two seasons in Purdue before signing up for the draft. He averaged 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game during his second season.
The Magic won this year’s draft lottery after finishing the season 22-60, the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the second worst record in the league. Only the Houston Rockets, who had the third pick in this year’s draft after a 20-62 season, won fewer games than the Magic.
This year was the fourth time in the franchise’s history that it made the first overall choice. The Magic met Shaquille O’Neal with the first election in 1992; Chris Webber, who they immediately traded for Penny Hardaway, in 1993; and Dwight Howard in 2004.
The pairing of Hardaway and O’Neal gave an NBA Finals appearance, but no championships for the Magic. Howard also led the Magic to a final appearance in 2009.
Later in their careers, O’Neal and Howard won championships while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers – O’Neal in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and Howard in 2020.
Before Banchero, the last Duke player to be selected as No. 1 overall in the NBA draft was Zion Williamson in 2019. Banchero follows two guards – Anthony Edwards (2020) and Cade Cunningham (2021) – to achieve the award as the top pick .