RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The Triangle is littered with talented basketball players, and that was on display during the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft.
Six players from our local teams heard their names come off the board, and all six will now be living out their dreams on NBA teams across the country.
The consensus No. 1 pick for many analysts before the 2018-19 college basketball season began was Duke’s R.J. Barrett. But it was teammate Zion Williamson who wowed the college ranks with his high-flying athleticism and passion for the game who went first to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Barrett, though, was not far behind. The New York Knicks nabbed the versatile wing with the third pick.
The freshman set the record for most points scored by a Duke freshman back in March and didn’t look back.
Williamson and Barrett are the first pair of Duke Blue Devil teammates to be drafted in the top three of the same NBA Draft since Jay Williams and Mike Dunleavy in 2002.
Williamson is likely the new figurehead and marketability monster for New Orleans after the departure of Anthony Davis. He should step right in a starting role and will be expected to be a key contributor as the Pelicans look to return to the playoffs after a disappointing season.
Unfortunately for basketball fans, Williamson told ESPN that he will not compete in next season’s NBA Dunk Contest.
Barrett, too, will be expected to be an early contributor in his inaugural season as a Knick. The pressure of playing in the New York City market will be daunting, but Barrett played for one of the most pressure-packed programs in college sports. Oh, and he did it all for the winningest coach in men’s college hoops — Mike Krzyzewski. He’ll be ready.
Traveling down Tobacco Road is where we’ll find the next local baller drafted — UNC’s Coby White. The Chicago Bulls drafted him with the 7th pick. White will get to play inside of the house that another Carolina product — a guy named Michael Jordan — built.
The electrifying 6-foot-5 point guard ran Coach Roy Williams’ breakneck offense to perfection this past season. Williams is notoriously not too fond of freshman point guards, but the Goldsboro native’s lightning quick game speed and ability to score from anywhere on the floor vaulted him inside of the top 10.
The Bulls were in need of a lead guard and will probably kick the tires with former first-round pick Kris Dunn. White should slide right in, whether as a starter or key contributor off the bench in his rookie season.
Duke’s Cam Reddish was the next local star to hear his name called. The versatile Reddish brings it on both ends of the floor. He’ll knock down perimeter jumpers and was often tasked to guard opponents’ top offensive talent in his lone season in Durham.
The Atlanta Hawks selected Reddish with the 10th pick, giving the Blue Devils three top 10 picks. Many experts expected the freshman trio to all go early in the draft, and that they did.
New teammate Trae Young was pretty excited about the selection.
Despite a solid season, Reddish told ESPN how his eating habits affected him on the floor.
“Last year I wasn’t necessarily doing a great job of taking care of my body and it affected me on the floor,” Reddish said. “Now that I’m feeling good, I’m feeling healthy, I feel I’m going to be able to go out there and perform on a consistent basis.”
Hopefully, Reddish takes care of his body, because he’s a talented wing who will contribute right away to a young Atlanta Hawks team, eager to add more scoring to a duo of John Collins and Trae Young.
With the 11th pick, the Phoenix Suns drafted UNC sharpshooter Cam Johnson.
Here’s teammate Coby White’s reaction to Cam Johnson getting drafted:
The Pittsburgh Panthers transfer shot nearly 46 percent from three in his second season as a Tar Heel. He added a much-needed perimeter threat to Roy Williams’ team that took home the ACC regular season title.
The Suns are loaded with young talent, and though he may not begin the season as a starter, Johnson’s perimeter prowess will be leaned on if the Suns plan to improve their win-loss record.
The sixth and final pick for the Triangle was UNC’s Nassir Little. The former McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Game MVP struggled a bit in his lone season at UNC, but made strides throughout the season, warranting a first round selection.
The Trailblazers selected Little at No. 25, giving Coach Roy Williams three first round picks to add to his book. It is the fourth time under Williams that the Tar Heels have produced three first-round picks.
Little was projected as a lottery pick, but slid down the board on draft night. Patience paid off as he will look to help Portland make another Western Conference Finals appearance.
Little’s versatility, athleticism and willingness to muck it up in the paint gives Portland something they have not had since LaMarcus Aldridge. Though he may not perform at Aldridge’s level, the potential for Little to blossom is there. The fact that he slipped out of the lottery adds a chip to his shoulder which he should use going forward.
The Blazers have two forwards hitting free agency this summer: Al-Farouq Aminu (unrestricted) and Jake Layman (restricted), so Little’s presence may be instantly needed.
Draft night was one for the books for the Triangle. All six players selected should have valuable roles from the jump for their respective teams. It remains to be seen how their careers will pan out, but hopefully, each and every player is content with getting to live out their dreams.
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