Seconds after hearing his name announced by NBA commissioner David Stern, former Gonzaga Bulldog Austin Daye kissed his mom, Tamara, embraced his dad, Darren, donned a Detroit Pistons’ hat and posed for pictures with Stern on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Detroit took Daye with the 15th overall pick in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday.
“It’s kind of an out-of-body experience,” Daye told NBA TV. “I told my dad I loved him and gave my mom a big kiss on the cheek.”
No other Bulldogs were selected, a surprising development considering forward Josh Heytvelt was projected as second-rounder in numerous mock drafts and a first-rounder in at least one. Ex-Zags Jeremy Pargo and Micah Downs also didn’t hear their names called.
Daye, who skipped his last two years of eligibility at Gonzaga, is the Bulldogs’ fourth first-round draft pick and the second highest ever. Adam Morrison was the third overall pick in 2006. John Stockton (16th in 1984) and Dan Dickau (28th in 2002) also were first-rounders. Ian Mahinmi, who signed a letter of intent with Gonzaga but never enrolled in school, was drafted late in the first round in 2005.
The 21-year-old Daye, who averaged 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds as a sophomore, joins Eastern Washington University’s Rodney Stuckey on the Pistons’ roster. Detroit also drafted forwards DaJuan Summers of Georgetown and Sweden’s Jonas Jerebko in the second round.
“There were two things that I talked to my staff about as soon as the season was over – increasing our talent base and I wanted character guys,” Pistons president Joe Dumars said. “With the selection of Austin, we cover ourselves in both those things. He’s a 6-11 kid that has perimeter skills. He is skinnier than (Detroit’s) Tayshaun (Prince), so we definitely have to put some weight on him. We like his skill set. He’s an extremely smart player and he’s been around the game all his life.”
Daye is well aware that he needs to add muscle to his 192-pound frame to withstand the rigors of an 82-game schedule.
“Every player has to improve,” Daye said. “My game can improve strength-wise; that’s my main goal going into the NBA season.”
He said wasn’t surprised Detroit selected him because he thought he performed well in a couple of “very physical” workouts with the team.
“I’m just happy I got selected by a great team and a great organization,” said Daye, whose father was drafted in the third round by the Washington Bullets in 1983 and played five NBA seasons.
Robin Lopez, last year’s No. 15 pick, made $1.62 million with the Phoenix Suns in 2009 and he’s scheduled to earn $1.74 million next season.
Detroit is rebuilding its front court. Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess are free agents and forward Amir Johnson was dealt to Milwaukee earlier this week. The Pistons were 39-43 last season and swept by Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.
“Austin posted up some in college, but what we see is a versatile player,” Dumars said. “We feel like he’s going to be able to play ‘3’ and ‘4’. We think Austin is a forward, whether we put him at 3 right now or 4 when he gets a little stronger.”