If anyone had a right to feel secure about his position in the NBA Draft, it was Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns, the consensus No. 1 pick since the end of the NCAA Tournament in April. But as NBA commissioner Adam Silver walked to the podium Thursday night at Barclays Center, Towns wasn't sure.
Sitting next to Kentucky coach John Calipari, Towns said, "I was trying to drink the water, and I was shaking uncontrollably. I told him, 'Coach, don't give me the ball right now for the last-second shot. I wouldn't make it."
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But when Silver spoke, it was nothing but net for Towns, who was selected first by Minnesota. The real stunner came right after that pick when the Lakers chose Ohio State point guard DeAngelo Russell over Duke center Jahlil Okafor, who began the season projected as the No. 1 overall pick but fell to No. 3 with the 76ers even though he led the Blue Devils to the NCAA title. The top three picks all had one-and-done college careers.
When Russell's name was called, a huge roar of surprise went up from the crowd. "God is good," Russell said. "I can't really put a nail on how I'm feeling right now. I feel like busting out like a baby in tears."
Some thought Okafor might fall to the Knicks at No. 4 if he got past the Lakers, but even though Philadelphia has big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid from the previous two drafts, the 76ers couldn't pass on the 6-11 low-post scorer.
"I wasn't shocked," Okafor said. "I was going to be a top-five pick no matter what happened."
Embiid missed last season while recovering from a broken foot, but Noel averaged 9.9 points for the 76ers. Asked how they might make it work with three low-post players, Okafor said, "It's not my job to figure it out . . . My bread and butter is in the post. That's where I've always been and that's where I'm most effective."
As for his short drop to No. 3, Okafor added, "I've been getting a lot of criticism. People in my circle, we're just going to take it with a grain of salt. It's easy to shoot at somebody when they're on top of the hill. I've been pretty much at the top throughout high school and college, so I'm expecting it."
Towns became the third Kentucky player taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the past six years, joining John Wall (2010) and Anthony Davis (2012). Teammates Willie Cauley-Stein (Sacramento), Trey Lyles (Utah) and Devin Booker (Phoenix) also were first-round picks.
Towns joins a Timberwolves team that now has the last three No. 1 picks on its roster, including Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (2014).
After Okafor was off the board, the Knicks took Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis over point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who slipped to Denver at No. 7. Okafor's Duke teammate, Justise Winslow, went to Miami and another teammate, Tyus Jones, went to Cleveland. Wisconsin had two first-rounders in Frank Kaminsky (Charlotte) and Sam Dekker (Houston), meaning nine players from the Final Four were first-round picks. Nobody was happier than Towns, who celebrated with about 50 family members and friends from his home in nearby Piscataway, New Jersey. Towns gave a shout-out to former St. John's star Felipe Lopez, who played for the Timberwolves and shares Dominican roots with Towns, who said, "It really is a great moment for me to keep the roots going in Minnesota.''
Arizona also had two first-round picks in Stanley Johnson (Detroit) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Portland).
Okafor becomes the 29th player under Mike Krzyzewski to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.