Paulo Panchero knew Thursday would be a special day, the start of his NBA career.
He had no idea the plans of the Orlando Magic, who picked the first overall team in the NBA draft that night. When he found out, just minutes before NBA commissioner Adam Silver was called by his name, he couldn’t believe it.
“This is not a dream,” Banchero said. “I feel like this is a fantasy. I dreamed of being in the NBA, but being the first choice overall – that’s crazy.”
He picked Magic Panchero, a forward from Duke University, with the best pick in Thursday’s draft. He’s a powerful striker at 6 feet 10 and 250 pounds, and his mother, Rhonda Smith Banchero, played for the WNBA.
In the minutes before his name was called, Banchero sat at a table on the floor of the Barclays Center and showed no emotion on his face. The magic was around the clock and word began to spread that Panchiro might be their pick. Cameras crowded around him, but he apparently did not react. Only when he heard his name changed his expression.
He lowered his head and looked up, smiling with tears in his eyes.
“I was telling everyone I wouldn’t cry no matter which option was made,” Banchero said. “He just hit me. I couldn’t stop him.”
In his only season at Duke, Banchero averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game and was named Rookie of the Year in this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference.
The picks for the rest of the top five: Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga in second for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jabari Smith Jr. from Auburn to the Houston Rockets in third, Keegan Murray of Iowa to the Sacramento Kings in fourth and Purdue Jaden Ivey to the Detroit Pistons in No.
Three prospects are believed to have separated themselves at the top of this year’s draft: Banchero, Holmgren and Smith.
Holmgren nodded and smiled subtly when he heard the name Panchero called first. When Silver called his name, Holmgren broke out with a broad smile, stopping the long handshakes and hugs with his family members.
“I’ve had a thousand emotions to describe this moment,” Holmgren said during an interview broadcast on the plaza in Brooklyn. “It’s surreal and everything I expected.”
Holmgren, 20, is a seven-foot center who grew up in Minneapolis and was named Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in 2021. He was a high school classmate of Galen Suggs, who was drafted by the Magic for fifth overall in 2021. He spent both Including one season in Gonzaga.
Holmgren led Gonzaga to 28-4 and averaged 14.1 points per game while making 60.7 percent of field shooters. He also averaged 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. Gonzaga entered the NCAA Championship as the #1 seed overall, but was upset in the round of 16.
In the days leading up to the draft, rumors circulated in media reports that Orlando had decided to pick Smith first overall. As Smith waited for his name to be called, he seemed frustrated. When Silver finally announced his name, another prospect, Louisiana State’s Tarry Eason, who played in the same conference, jumped from his seat to applaud Smith.
“I know it was a possibility, so when it didn’t happen, I was surprised,” Smith said of the possibility of being picked first overall. “You know, all the selected players are great players. They bring a lot to the table. It was like I said in other interviews: it was a coin engraving. So when it happened, you know, I was just happy for them, and I applauded them and just waited for my name to be called. “.
Smith, 19, spent one season at Auburn after a prestigious high school basketball career in Georgia. Played for the same AAAA team as another #1 pick by Magic: Dwight Howard. Smith’s father, also named Jabbari Smith, spent parts of four seasons in the NBA in the early 2000s.
Jabari Smith Jr. was named the Southeast Conference Newcomer of the Year and All-American Second Team last season. Smith is a 6-foot-10 power forward with the ability to shoot from the ocean. He made 42.9 percent of his three-pointers and averaged 16.9 points per game at Auburn.
The first surprise of the night was the Kings pick of Murray in fourth, given expectations that Panchero, Holmgren and Smith would go some order of the way in the top three. Spectators at the Barclays Center revolted at the announcement.
Murray is the highest-grossing hook-up in the school’s history. The 6-foot-8 forward captured all-American first-team titles last season and finished fourth in the Division I with 23.5 points per game. He led the Hawkeyes to a record 26-10 and first-round appearance at the NCAA Tournament.
Ivy spent two seasons at Purdue before the draft was announced. He averaged 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game during his sophomore season.
The Magic won the Draft Lottery this year after finishing the season at 22-60, the Eastern Conference’s worst record and second worst record in the league. Only the Houston Rockets, who took the third pick in this year’s draft after the 20-62 season, have won fewer games than the Magic.
This year marks the fourth time in franchise history that the first comprehensive selection has been made. The Magic drafted Shaquille O’Neal with the first pick in 1992; Chris Webber, immediately traded to Benny Hardaway, in 1993; and Dwight Howard in 2004.
Hardaway and O’Neal’s pairing resulted in one NBA Finals appearance, but no magic tournament. Howard also led the Magic to one final appearance, in 2009.
Later in their careers, O’Neal and Howard won championships while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers – O’Neal in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and Howard in 2020.
Prior to Banchero, he was the last Duke player to be named #1 overall in the NBA Draft Zion Williamson In 2019. Banchero follows two guards – Anthony Edwards (2020) and Kid Cunningham (2021) – in getting the privilege of being a top choice.