NEWARK, N.J.: No one-and-done for Kentucky’s kids in the NBA Draft. The Wildcats instead became the first school to go 1-2.
After the New Orleans Hornets selected Kentucky forward Anthony Davis with the No. 1 pick Thursday, Charlotte followed by taking fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Wildcats are the first school to have the top two picks, part of what they hoped would be perhaps five or even six players selected in the first round. John Calipari has been criticized for recruiting “one-and-done” players — they stay the required one year and leave — but he looked thrilled hugging his two stars.
“It’s crazy,” Davis said. “Michael is a great player. We have two down and four more to go. Hopefully all of them will go in the first round.”
It’s been a long time since a school made such an impact at the top of the draft.
UCLA had the Nos. 1 and 3 picks in 1969, when Milwaukee took Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — then Lew Alcindor — and Lucius Allen went third to the Seattle SuperSonics.
Davis will begin his pro career in the same city where he ended it with a national title. College basketball’s player of the year as a freshman was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite shooting just 1-for-10 from the field in the championship game, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking six shots in the victory over Kansas.
Davis put on a blue and purple Hornets hat above a conservative gray suit that took no attention away from basketball’s most famous eyebrow. Davis even attempted to capitalize on the attention his unibrow gets, trademarking “Fear The Brow” and “Raise The Brow” earlier this month.
On the floor, Davis has the agility of a guard — and he was one only a few years ago.
The 6-foot-10 Davis averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks, becoming a dominant defender after growing 7 inches from the start of his junior year of high school.
A season after the Hornets traded longtime star Chris Paul, Davis is ready to be their centerpiece, since playing for the Wildcats means he’s already accustomed to plenty of attention.
“Like I said, at Kentucky we had it all the time, especially the six who played, we had the spotlight all the time,” Davis said. “I think it really prepared me.”
Charlotte, coming off a 7-59 season and the worst winning percentage in NBA history, had been open to moving the No. 2 pick if it found the right deal. Instead, Michael Jordan’s team went with Kidd-Gilchrist, whose selection by the Bobcats was loudly cheered, a sharp contrast from the boos Commissioner David Stern received when coming out to announce the picks.
The new Charlotte swingman played in high school at nearby St. Patrick’s in Elizabeth, N.J., and fans chanted “MKG! MKG!” as he walked off the stage. Though he and Davis talked before the draft, they didn’t discuss the history the Wildcats were about to make.
“No. I was shocked at first,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I was shocked. But no, we didn’t. We didn’t at all.”
But North Carolina was actually outpacing the Wildcats through the first 20 picks, with Harrison Barnes (No. 7, Golden State Warriors), Kendall Marshall (No. 13, Phoenix Suns), John Henson (No. 14, Milwaukee Bucks) and Tyler Zeller (No. 17, Dallas Mavericks and traded to the Cavs) going between Kidd-Gilchrist and the next Kentucky player, Terrence Jones at No. 18 to the Houston Rockets.
Florida’s Bradley Beal went third to the Washington Wizards, making it three SEC freshmen in the first three picks. The Cavs followed with the surprisingly early pick of Syracuse sixth man Dion Waiters at No. 4.
Thomas Robinson of Kansas, who hoped to go second, fell to the Sacramento Kings at No. 5. The Portland Trail Blazers took Weber State’s Damian Lillard at No 6 with their first of two lottery picks, and Barnes was taken seventh by the Warriors.
After Washington’s Terrence Ross went to the Toronto Raptors and Connecticut’s Andre Drummond to the Detroit Pistons, the Hornets rounded out the top 10 by taking Duke guard Austin Rivers with a pick they acquired in the Paul trade. Rivers hugged his father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who came to be with his family instead of with the Celtics, who owned two later first-round picks.
Davis was the only clear-cut pick entering the draft, and there were some early surprises. Players such as Waiters and Ross went higher than expected, while Robinson dropped to the Kings.
“I really didn’t know where I was going to end up at, but it is a bit of a surprise,” he said, tearing up when talking about his difficult journey that included the deaths of multiple family members in college. “I didn’t work out for Sacramento at all, I probably talked to them about once. But I’m here, so I’m meant to be here.”
The Rockets took Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut at No. 12 with their first of three top-20 picks. But the Rockets, who also had the No. 16 and 18 picks, were hoping not to use all of them, instead packaging them for an established player after their pursuit of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol fell through last year.
The Rockets tabbed Iowa State’s Royce White at No. 16 and Terrence Jones two picks later.
Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, once considered a top-10 pick, ended up in a draft free-fall over concerns with his back but was finally taken at No. 21 by the Celtics. The Celtics followed with Fab Melo of Syracuse, giving them two potential replacements if Kevin Garnett doesn’t return.