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Sports >  NBA

Orlando Magic Select Paolo Banchero With No. 1 Pick in NBA Draft

June 23, 2022 Updated Thu., June 23, 2022 at 9:34 p.m.

No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero greets the media during the NBA draft at Barclays Center on Thursday.  (Tribune News Service)
No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero greets the media during the NBA draft at Barclays Center on Thursday. (Tribune News Service)
By Tania Ganguli </p><p>and Kris Rhim New York Times

NEW YORK – Paolo Banchero knew Thursday would be a special day, the start of his NBA career.

He had no idea about the plans of the Orlando Magic, the team selecting first overall in the NBA draft that night. When he found out, just minutes before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called his name, he couldn’t believe it.

“This isn’t 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 pick – this is crazy.”

The Magic selected Banchero, a forward from Duke, 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 a guard earlier in his basketball career and played 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 Barclays Center showing no emotion on his face. The Magic were on the clock and word began to spread that Banchero might be their pick. Cameras crowded around him, but he didn’t outwardly react. Only when he heard his name did his expression change.

He lowered his head, looked up and smiled with tears in his eyes.

“I was telling everyone I wasn’t going to cry no matter what pick I was picked,” 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 the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Rookie of the Year.

The picks for the rest of the top five: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren to the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 2; Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. to the Houston Rockets at No. 3; Iowa’s Keegan Murray to the Sacramento Kings at No. 4 and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey to the Detroit Pistons at No. 5.

Three prospects were thought to have separated themselves at the top of this year’s draft: Banchero, Holmgren and Smith.

In the days before the draft, rumors circulated in media reports that Orlando had decided to select Smith first overall. As Smith waited for his name to be called, he looked disappointed. When finally Silver announced his name, another prospect, Louisiana State’s Tari Eason, who played in the same conference, leapt out of his seat to clap for Smith.

“I know it was a possibility, so when it didn’t happen, I was surprised,” Smith said of the prospect of his being selected first overall. “You know, all the guys up for the 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 for them, clapped for them and just waiting to get my name called.”

Smith, 19, spent one season at Auburn after a distinguished high school basketball career in Georgia. He played for the same Amateur Athletic Union team as another No. 1 pick by the Magic: Dwight Howard. Smith’s father, also named Jabari Smith, spent parts of four seasons in the NBA in the early 2000s.

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