ORLANDO, Fla. ( Associated Press) — Paolo Banchero never worked for the Orlando Magic. He didn’t have to either.
His year at Duke gave them all the information they needed.
The latest and arguably most important part of Orlando’s makeover was Banchero, the 6-foot-10 forward who took first overall in the NBA draft on Thursday. He has met with Magic several times in recent weeks, taking part in everything from personal profiles to orientation interviews, and what happened at those meetings only reinforced Orlando’s belief that he was the better choice.
“We think he was the best player in college basketball,” said Magic president Jeff Veltman. “And we feel it will continue to grow every year for many years to come.”
Banchero averaged 17.2 points in his only college season, as well as 7.8 rebounds, and was the Associated Press’s third-team All-American. The crowd at the Amway Center, Banchero’s new home court, roared as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced around 8 p.m. that the Magic was on watch.
It didn’t take long for Magic to send the official word. Banchero is heading to Orlando and plans to officially welcome him to his new home on Friday.
“A dream come true,” Banchero said, detailing the moment he heard his name as the No. 1 pick. “It was a truly surreal moment.”
Silver is a Duke graduate. And, as is tradition for a commissioner, he shook Banchero’s hand and gave him a warm hug after the new No. 1 pick donned his Magic hat and took the stage to celebrate his big moment.
The whole scene was overwhelming for Banchero, and yes, he was crying.
“I have never been moved to tears by anything positive,” he said.
Banquero joins a young Orlando core that already includes 2017 top pick Markelle Fultz, a pair of 2021 top eight picks Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs, and 2020 No. 15 pick Cole Anthony.
Orlando also has the 6th overall pick in 2017 and 2018, Jonathan Isaac and Moe Bamba. It’s entirely possible that Orlando could have as many as six lottery picks, nine top 16 picks and 12 first round players on his roster by the start of next season.
There are many opportunities for growth. The Magic went 22-60 last season. Duke Banchero’s team won 10 more games than the Magic.
“I am very excited to go to Orlando,” Banchero said. “Actually, I am delighted with the team. I think this is the most exciting part, going out with the team. I feel like we have a really talented team. A lot of guys are hungry, ready to win, and so am I.”
Bunchero will earn around $10 million next season, which will be the start of his four-year rookie deal, plus whatever he lures in off-court earnings. Given that he is Duke’s No. 1 pick, with both Italian and American citizenship, it’s likely that he’ll have a lot of appeal in the approval world.
Banchero’s selection came as a mild surprise after weeks of speculation that Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. or Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren could be the ones topping Orlando’s list. Holmgren finished second in Oklahoma City and Smith finished third in Houston.
Earlier this week, Veltman hinted that the reports may have been wrong, and even boasted that the Magic was proud that such important decisions remain a surprise.
They took him off too.
“I think it’s important that people know that information is handled confidentially by us from all corners of this business, from agents to other teams and the media,” Veltman said. “And obviously when you play poker, you don’t put your cards on the table, right?”
This was the fourth time Orlando was selected #1. If the story is true, Banchero will have a long career in this league.
The Magic took Shaquille O’Neal with the top pick in 1992. Chris Webber was the Orlando No. 1 pick in 1993 and was traded the same night for Penny Hardaway and a future pick package that eventually led to Vince Carter and Mike Miller. And in 2004, the Magic selected Dwight Howard as their first pick.
Miller has his fingerprints on this choice as well, having worked with Banchero in recent weeks to prepare him for the NBA.
Now it was Banchero’s turn to become a valuable rookie after Orlando decided to pick him from two other highly publicized candidates for the top spot, Smith and Holmgren.
Bunchero also became the 13th player in a row to receive the No. 1 pick after just one year of college.
“Honestly, I can’t believe what just happened,” Banchero said as he hugged his mother, former WNBA player Rhonda Smith-Banchero.
Believe it. The Magic have bet a large part of their future on the 19-year-old.
“Our team is much better today,” Veltman said. “Paolo hasn’t played a minute in this league yet and everything he gets he has to earn. Obviously, he has a huge future ahead of him, a huge future.”
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