Less than a week after the Toronto Raptors celebrated their landmark championship, there was a definite Canadian feel to the NBA’s annual draft media availability.
R.J. Barrett, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Brandon Clarke were all invited by the league to meet with the media on Wednesday and to sit with their families in the “green room” at the Barclays Center as they are drafted Thursday night.
We saw a record four Canadians taken in 2014, including three in the first round, but we’ll likely see more history north of the border as projections have four players as first-rounders this year.
“I think they have hope, I know I do,” Alexander-Walker said of young Canadian players. “Just seeing a lot more Canadians, guys like me coming from areas like Scarborough and there’s probably another kid right now that’s making it from Scarborough. For me to show them it’s possible, like my cousin [Shai Gilgeous-Alexander] showed me it’s possible. I think it’s definitely big for the whole country.”
Things Happened Quickly For Tyler Herro
Tyler Herro was the lowest-rated member of Kentucky’s 2018 recruiting class, but after just one season with the Wildcats he’s on the verge of the NBA. Seen as a late-first rounder when he put his name in the draft, Herro performed so well at workouts that he now has lottery potential.
It has all happened very, very fast for the Wisconsin native.
“Probably around the age of, I don’t know, a couple of months ago,” Herro said of when he realized the NBA was a real possibility. “But I mean it’s a dream come true, it feels good to be here and I’m just taking it all in.”
De’Andre Hunter Valued His College Experience
Winning a national championship would be a cherry on the top of anyone’s college experience, but De’Andre Hunter entered the University of Virginia eager for the experience. Even if he had the ability to jump right from high school to the NBA, the 21-year-old wouldn’t have done it.
“I always wanted to experience what playing in college and college itself was like, but I’m a little different,” he said.
Draft reform is expected under the league’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement, leading to speculation that players will once again be allowed to enter the league right out of high school. In a few cases, players have circumvented the current rules and skipped college to prepare for the NBA in other ways.
“I think we’ll see more guys try to do that,” Hunter said. “If you’re a top player in high school, why not? I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
How Jaxson Hayes Got Over Football
Jaxson Hayes has football in his blood. His father, Jonathan, had a lengthy NFL career and was the tight ends coach for the Cincinnati Bengals for 15 seasons. He was set to join the family business until he had a sudden growth spurt.
He entered Cincinnati’s Moeller High School as a 6-foot, 125-pound freshman but graduated at 6-10, 200 pounds. His days as a wide receiver ended somewhere between.
“It was really just because of my height,” Hayes said of the switch to basketball. “I grew too big for football and I didn’t want to take any more hits.”
Hayes also recalled the first time he was starstruck around a basketball player. He traveled northeast from Cincinnati to Cleveland to watch LeBron James play for the Cavaliers. As a third grader, it such a big moment that he forgot to ask for an autograph or picture.
Now he’s an NBA player and LeBron is entering his 17th season.
Romeo Langford Wanted To Be There For Hoosiers
Romeo Langford played the final 26 games of the season for Indiana with a torn ligament in his right (shooting) thumb. He went from an above average shooter at New Albany High School (IN) to just a 27.7% shooter from three during his lone collegiate season.
“That’s a question I hear a lot,” Langford said of his thumb, which is still in a soft cast. “Teams asked me about the thumb and what happened, also the reasons I played through it.”
He eventually underwent surgery in early April, preventing him from truly working out during the pre-draft process. So why play through the injury when he could have been fully healthy ahead of this week?
“I wanted to be there for my team. I came to Indiana to play basketball, I didn’t want to just sit out there and not play when I was able to play through it,” he said. “I didn’t want my teammates or anybody thinking that I was just sitting out to sit out, that I didn’t want to be out there playing or I was using Indiana as a pit stop on my way to the NBA.”
Soccer Was Jarrett Culver’s First Love
Before basketball dominated Jarrett Culver’s attention, he was a naturally gifted soccer player. He learned the game from his older brothers and considers Lionel Messi his favorite player.
After the basketball season ended during his junior year of high school, the school’s soccer coach recruited him for the final few games. He scored three goals with the varsity team.
So why did he stop playing soccer?
“I wanted to focus on basketball and dedicate my time to one sport,” he said before admitting, “I was pretty talented.”
Motivation Isn’t An Issue For Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Most players draw on criticisms, perceived or otherwise, to motivate them on and off the court. Nickeil Alexander-Walker isn’t one of those players.
“When you get to this level, motivation comes from within. It shouldn’t really come from other people because if you need other people to motivate you at this point, you should probably choose another profession,” the precocious 20-year-old mused.
“I love basketball and God giving me this opportunity is enough everyday to try to be the best I can be. I’m more focused on being the best than what number I go. I’m working my best to be the best I can be.”
However, that internal motivation doesn’t mean Alexander-Walker is complacent or feels as though he’s arrived.
“To this day, I’m thinking how the heck did I get here,” he said. “I couldn’t really sleep last night just thinking that it doesn’t seem real, but I’m trying to be as humble as possible because I know at any moment it can be taken from you. I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
Previous editions of Sights & Sounds from NBA Draft Media Availability