NEWARK, N.J. – Best in the country and No. 1 and 2 in the NBA draft. The celebration goes on for Kentucky’s kids.
The Wildcats became the first school to have the top two picks, half of the four Kentucky players taken in the first round Thursday night.
After the New Orleans Hornets made the long-expected selection of forward Anthony Davis with the first pick, Charlotte followed by taking fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
“It’s crazy,” Davis said. “Michael is a great player. We have two down and four more to go. Hopefully all of them will go in the first round.”
They didn’t, the only disappointment for the Wildcats. They settled for four in the first round and a tie with North Carolina, which won the race to four picks, putting all of theirs in the top 17 selections.
Harrison Barnes (No. 7, Golden State), Kendall Marshall (No. 13, Phoenix), John Henson (No. 14, Milwaukee) and Tyler Zeller (No. 17, Dallas) all went between Kidd-Gilchrist and the next Kentucky player, Terrence Jones at No. 18 to Houston.
Zeller’s rights were later traded to Cleveland for a package that included No. 24 pick Jared Cunningham of Oregon State.
Otherwise, it was the Wildcats’ night, starting with a hug between Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist after the first selection.
“My arm was shaking and my hands were sweaty. Got up and hugged Michael, my best friend, wanted to hug him for a minute,” Davis said. “When my name got called, wanted to make sure he stayed close.”
He did – following Davis as the next player to climb onto the stage and shake Commissioner David Stern’s hand.
Kentucky got its fourth first-round pick at No. 29 with Marquis Teague, another freshman, who is headed to Chicago as a possible replacement for the injured Derrick Rose.
John Calipari has been criticized for recruiting “one-and-done” players, they stay the required one year and leave, but he looked thrilled hugging his two stars at the start of the night.
It’s been a long time since a school made such an impact at the top of the draft.
UCLA had the Nos. 1 and 3 picks in 1969, when Milwaukee took Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – then Lew Alcindor – and Lucius Allen went third to the Seattle SuperSonics.
Davis will begin his pro career in the same city where he ended it with a national title. College basketball’s player of the year as a freshman was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite shooting just 1 for 10 from the field in the championship game, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking six shots in the victory over Kansas.
On the floor, Davis has the agility of a guard – and he was one only a few years ago.
The 6-foot-10 Davis averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks, becoming a dominant defender after growing 7 inches from the start of his junior year of high school.
A season after the Hornets traded longtime star Chris Paul, Davis is ready to be their centerpiece, since playing for the Wildcats means he’s already accustomed to plenty of attention.
“Like I said, at Kentucky we had it all the time, especially the six who played, we had the spotlight all the time,” Davis said. “I think it really prepared me.”
Charlotte, coming off a 7-59 season and the worst winning percentage in NBA history, had been open to moving the No. 2 pick if it found the right deal. Instead, Michael Jordan’s team went with Kidd-Gilchrist, whose selection by the Bobcats was loudly cheered, a sharp contrast from the boos Stern received when coming out to announce the picks.
The new Charlotte swingman played in high school at nearby St. Patrick’s in Elizabeth, N.J., and fans chanted “MKG! MKG!” as he walked off the stage. Though he and Davis talked before the draft, they didn’t discuss the history the Wildcats were about to make.
“No. I was shocked at first,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I was shocked. But no, we didn’t. We didn’t at all.”
Florida’s Bradley Beal went third to Washington, making it three SEC freshman in the first three picks. Cleveland followed with the surprisingly early pick of Syracuse sixth man Dion Waiters at No. 4.
Thomas Robinson of Kansas, who hoped to go second, fell to Sacramento at No. 5. Portland took Weber State’s Damian Lillard at No 6 with its first of two lottery picks, and Barnes was taken seventh by Golden State.
After Washington’s Terrence Ross went to Toronto and Connecticut’s Andre Drummond to Detroit, the Hornets rounded out the top 10 by taking Duke guard Austin Rivers with a pick they acquired in the Paul trade. Rivers hugged his father, Boston coach Doc Rivers, who came to be with his family instead of with the Celtics, who owned two later first-round picks.
Davis was the only clear-cut pick entering the draft, and there were some early surprises. Players such as Waiters and Ross went higher than expected, while Robinson dropped to the Kings.
“I really didn’t know where I was going to end up at, but it is a bit of a surprise,” he said, tearing up when talking about his difficult journey that included the deaths of multiple family members in college. “I didn’t work out for Sacramento at all, I probably talked to them about once. But I’m here, so I’m meant to be here.”
Houston took Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut at No. 12 with its first of three top-20 picks. But the Rockets, who also had the Nos. 16 and 18 picks, were hoping not to use all of them, instead packaging them for an established player after their pursuit of the Lakers’ Pau Gasol fell through last year.
The Rockets tabbed Iowa State’s Royce White at No. 16 and Terrence Jones two picks later.
Jared Sullinger, once considered a top-10 pick, ended up in a draft free-fall over concerns with his back but was finally taken at No. 21 by Boston. The Celtics followed with Fab Melo of Syracuse, giving them two potential replacements if Kevin Garnett doesn’t return.
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