There was no barbecue or beach music at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but the NBA draft had a North Carolina atmosphere last week.
Six players with Old North State ties have been selected in the first 26 draft selections, or about one in four selections.
As expected, Duke led the way with five members of Mike Krzyzewski’s last Blue Devils team having their names called – four in the first round.
Paolo Banchero was the first overall pick, surprising many pundits who scoffed at third overall. Instead, the Magic pulled the trigger to make the Duke freshman the fifth top pick in program history, two more than any other basketball team in the country.
Banchero helped extend some of the Blue Devils’ impressive streaks in the NBA Draft. He was Duke’s 11th first-round pick in the last 12 drafts, and it was the seventh time in the last nine drafts that a Blue Devil had been selected in the top three. Duke has had a total of eight top-three picks in that span, four times more than any other program.
“We think he was the best player in college basketball,” Magic president Jeff Weltman said. “And we believe it will continue to grow every year for many years to come.”
Banchero became the first Blue Devil drafted by Orlando since JJ Redick in 2006.
Second-year center Mark Williams was the next Blue Devil on the board, going to Charlotte at No. 15. He was the first Duke player taken by the Hornets since second-round Vernon Carey in 2020 and the first taken in Round 1 since Gerald Henderson in 2009.
Freshman shooter AJ Griffin gave Duke back-to-back picks, heading to Atlanta at No. 16. It was the first time since Jay Williams and Mike Dunleavy became No. 2 and No. 3 in 2002 that Consecutive draft picks have been used on Blue Devils.
It’s the second straight year and third time in the last four drafts that the Hawks have selected a Duke player in the first round. Cam Reddish was selected with the 10th overall pick in 2019, and Jalen Johnson was selected 20th overall last year.
Griffin was ranked No. 11 by expert consensus in the draft simulation, but he didn’t seem concerned about dropping five spots and dropping teammate Williams.
“You hear rumors and stuff about where you might go,” Griffin said. “I thought I was leaving early. It motivates me even more.
“We didn’t really think he’d be here at 16,” Hawks general manager Landry Fields said. “We are excited about what he brings in terms of versatility and personality. We couldn’t be happier to have it.
The project then moved away from Durham, at least temporarily. The next local player off the board was Wake Forest junior Jake LaRavia, who went to Minnesota at pick 19. LaRavia was then traded to Memphis, where he is expected to adjust in the fall.
LaRavia was the first former Demon Deacon taken by Minnesota since Loren Woods was drafted in the second round in 2001 after ending his college career in Arizona. He will be the first Deac to play for Memphis since James Johnson in 2014 and said he is looking forward to sharing the word with Grizzlies star Ja Morant.
“It’s easier to play with someone of that caliber,” he said. “He will have eyes on him when we are together in attack. Just being able to play with him and make him look as good as he is.
“Jake LaRavia is just an incredibly underrated defenseman,” said Zach Kleiman, executive vice president of basketball operations for the Grizzlies. “We like the versatility he brings, the instincts he has.”
The trade that sent LaRavia from Minnesota to Memphis shipped the No. 22 pick in the opposite direction. This selection was used on Walker Kessler, the big man from Auburn who played his freshman year at UNC. Kessler became the first former Tar Heel drafted after his transfer since Clifford Rozier went to the NBA via Louisville in 1994.
Duke closed out North Carolina’s impact in the first round when junior Wendell Moore Jr. was taken out by Dallas with the 26th pick. He is the first Blue Devil taken by the Mavs since Cherokee Parks in 1995. Moore was then transferred to Minnesota, where he will join Kessler.
Moore’s selection marked the second time in history that Duke had four first-round players in a draft, joining the team in 1999.
Duke wasn’t quite done, setting a program record by having a fifth player chosen. Trevor Keels went to the Knicks in the second round, No. 42 overall.
Several other players signed with teams immediately after the draft, either with two-way NBA/G-League contracts or with Summer League contracts, which are essentially a tryout for the team.
ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams has signed a two-way deal with the Brooklyn Nets. NC State’s Dereon Seabron signed a two-way deal with New Orleans, while Wolfpack Devon Daniels signed a Summer League pact with Orlando.
UNC grad student and Final Four hero Brady Manek with the Hornets and Duke grad student Theo John with Minnesota also signed summer contracts. UNC Wilmington’s Jaylen Sims will fit for the Raptors in the Summer League, Duke will trade Alex O’Connell — most recently from Creighton — for Sacramento, and UNC will trade Garrison Brooks signed to the Knicks through Mississippi State.
Whether drafted early or signed late, each of the homegrown players has one thing in common: they will pursue their dream at the sport’s highest level.
“I think we can do something special,” Griffin said. “I’m ready to put in the work and ready to get some wins.”