ORLANDO, Fla. — Paolo Banchero has been insisting for weeks that he believes he’s the best prospect in the NBA draft.
The Orlando Magic agree with him.
The first pick in Thursday’s draft brought the first mild surprise, when the Magic chose the Duke forward with the No. 1 selection — after weeks of speculation that Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. or Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren might be the ones atop Orlando’s list.
“I can’t believe what just happened, honestly,” Banchero said, after embracing his mother — Rhonda Smith-Banchero, a former WNBA player.
Banchero averaged 17.2 points in his lone college season, along with 7.8 rebounds and was a third-team Associated Press All-American. There were roars from the crowd at Amway Center — Banchero’s new home court — when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced just past 8 p.m. that the Magic were on the clock.
It didn’t take long for the Magic to send in the official word. Banchero is heading to Orlando, with plans for his official welcome at his new home on Friday.
Silver is a Duke grad. And as is tradition for the commissioner, he gave Banchero a handshake and warm embrace after the new No. 1 pick put on a Magic hat and took the stage for his big moment.
This was the fourth time that Orlando made the No. 1 selection. If history holds true, Banchero is going to have a long career in this league.
The Magic took Shaquille O’Neal with the top selection in 1992. Chris Webber was the No. 1 pick by Orlando in 1993, and he got traded that same night for Penny Hardaway and a package of future picks that eventually led to Vince Carter and Mike Miller. And in 2004, the Magic selected Dwight Howard with the first pick.
Miller has his fingerprints on this pick as well: He’s been working with Banchero in recent weeks, getting him ready for the NBA grind.
Now, it’s Banchero’s turn to be the prized rookie, after Orlando decided to choose him over the two other highly touted candidates for the No. 1 pick — Smith and Holmgren.
Banchero also became the 13th consecutive player to get drafted No. 1 overall after just one year of college.