NBA Draft: Paolo Banquero is #1 in the Orlando Magic

Paolo Banquero knew that Thursday would be a special day, the start of his NBA career.

Earlier that day, he heard that the Orlando Magic weren’t sure who they would pick as the first pick in the draft that night. When he found out about it just minutes before NBA commissioner Adam Silver called his name, he couldn’t believe it.

“It’s not even a dream,” Banchero said. “I think it’s fantastic. I dreamed of being in the NBA, but being number one. 1 overall peak is insane.”

The Magic selected Duke University forward Bunchero as the top pick in the draft on Thursday. He is a 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward whose mother, Rhonda Smith-Banchero, played in the WNBA. Earlier in his basketball career, he was a quarterback and played football and basketball at O’Dea High School in Seattle.

Minutes before his name was called, Banchero was sitting at a table on the floor of the Barclays Center, showing no emotion on his face. The Magic were on the lookout, and rumors began to circulate that Banchero might be their choice. Cameras crowded around him, but outwardly he did not react at all. It wasn’t until he heard his name that his expression changed.

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

“I told everyone I wasn’t going to cry no matter what pick I get picked,” Banchero said. “It just struck 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 Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.

Pick for the rest of the top five: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren at No. 1. 2 in the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jabari Smith Jr. of Auburn. No. 1.3 to the Houston Rockets, Iowa’s Keegan Murray to the Sacramento Kings, No. 3.4, and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey to the Detroit Pistons, No. 1.5.

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

Holmgren nodded and grinned thinly when he heard Bunchero’s name first. When Silver called his name, Holmgren broke into a wide smile, pausing for handshakes and long hugs with his family members.

“I got a thousand emotions to describe this moment,” Holmgren said during an interview that was broadcast at the arena in Brooklyn. “It’s surreal and everything I expected.”

Holmgren, 20, is a lean, seven-foot center who grew up in Minneapolis and earned the nickname “Mr. Olympia” of Minnesota. Basketball in 2021. He was a high school teammate of Jalen Suggs, who was selected by the Magic fifth overall in 2021. Each of them spent one season in Gonzaga.

Holmgren led Gonzaga to a 28-4 record and averaged 14.1 points per game while shooting 60.7% from the field. He also averaged 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. Gonzaga entered the NCAA Tournament as No. 1st place in the overall standings, but upset in the 1/8 finals.

In the days leading up to the draft, rumors circulated in the media that Orlando had decided to pick Smith first overall. As he waited for his name to be called, Smith looked disappointed. When Silver finally announced his name, another prospect, Tari Eason of Louisiana, who was speaking at the same conference, jumped up from his seat to clap for Smith.

“I know it was possible, so when it didn’t, I was surprised,” Smith said of the prospect of being selected first overall. “You know, all the guys that were put up for selection are great players. They bring a lot to the table. As I’ve said in other interviews: it was a coin toss. So when it happened, you know, I was just happy for them, clapping for them and just waiting to be called.”

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

Jabari Smith Jr. was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and second All-American last season. Smith is a 6-foot-10 power forward who can shoot from the perimeter. He shot 42.9% of three-pointers and averaged 16.9 points per game at Auburn.

The first surprise of the evening was that the Kings selected Murray at No. 1.4 given the expectation that Banchero, Holmgren and Smith would make it into the top three in some order. The audience at the Barclays Center exploded at the announcement.

Murray is the most popular Hawkeye in the school’s history. The 6-foot-8 forward earned universal first-team acclaim last season and finished fourth in Division I with 23.5 points per game. He led the Hawkeyes to a 26-10 record and a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.

Ivey spent two seasons at Purdue before announcing the draft. In his second season, he averaged 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.

Long after most of the 24 players in the green room had been selected, Jaden Hardy was left waiting for his turn. Hardy, who played for G League Ignite last season, sat with his family and agent Rich Paul. He waited out the first round and six picks in the second before he heard his name.

Silver normally only calls first round picks, but before Hardy’s selection, he briefly stopped at Hardy’s table. When Mark Tatum, NBA deputy commissioner, announced that Hardy had been drafted 37th overall by the Kings, Silver waited backstage and applauded.

The Magic won this year’s draft lottery, finishing the season 22-60, the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the second-worst record in the league. Only the Houston Rockets, who had the third pick in this year’s draft after the 20-62 season, have won fewer games than the Magic.

This year, for the fourth time in franchise history, she received the first overall pick. The Magic selected Shaquille O’Neal as their first pick in 1992; Chris Webber, whom they promptly traded for Penny Hardaway in 1993; and Dwight Howard in 2004.

The pairing of Hardaway and O’Neal brought one NBA Finals appearance, but no championship for the Magic. Howard also led the Magic to one Finals appearance in 2009.

Later in their careers, O’Neal and Howard won championships with the Los Angeles Lakers: O’Neal in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and Howard in 2020.

Before Banchero, the last Duke player chose No. 1st overall in the NBA draft Zion Williamson in 2019. Banchero follows two guards – Anthony Edwards (2020) and Cade Cunningham (2021) – in earning the title of the best player.