Nearly everyone knew whose name would be called first Thursday at the NBA Draft, perhaps first and foremost, the man himself, Deandre Ayton. But when commissioner Adam Silver finally took the stage at Barclays Center, Ayton’s hands started sweating. His calm assurance — he had already declared his assurance that he would go first and only worked out with the Suns — suddenly abandoned him.
“I kept asking my mom, ‘You think I’m going No. 1? You think I’m going No. 1?’ ”
And then, he said, his mind went blank. “I just did the routine everyone else was supposed to do, and I just got up there,” he said.
Ayton, only the second Bahamian player to be selected first overall, became the Suns’ first first overall pick on Thursday. The center is an athletic specimen — 7-1, 250 pounds — and was named the 2018 Pac-12 Tournament’s most outstanding player. He had 24 double-doubles this season, which tied him for first in the nation. He is markedly driven, and has already established his dedication to his home country: He chose to sign with Puma, eschewing bigger names like Nike or Adidas because Puma “is very affordable” and is worn by the kids of the Bahamas, he said. He wants to bring basketball opportunities to his home country.
“Instead of coming to the United States or going overseas, we’ll just be at home and start our own trend,” he said.
And he established all this . . . oh, just a few minutes after being drafted.
In all, Ayton’s pick headlined a slew of lottery picks that held a handful of surprises early on. As expected, the Kings selected Duke forward Marvin Bagley III second (he and Ayton actually played a month together at Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix). The first trade came early, with the Hawks shipping the third pick, Luca Doncic, to the Mavericks, who were sitting at five. The Hawks got Oklahoma guard Trae Young in return and the two — who were seated near each other in front of the stage — simply traded caps once the trade became official.
In between, the Grizzlies selected Jaren Jackson Jr., son of former Spur Jaren Jackson, fourth.
Harlem native Mohamed Bamba — the center coveted by Knicks fans far and wide — dropped, but not far enough, and the Magic took him sixth. The Knicks went with forward Kevin Knox with their ninth pick.
“I’ve wanted to be an NBA player probably as long as I can remember,” said Jackson, a Michigan State freshman who said he still intended to graduate. “I can’t really even — it’s everybody’s dream. We dream about this every day, and we dream about this moment probably more than you can think of. It’s surreal.”