NEW YORK. The first pick of the 2022 NBA draft belongs to the Orlando Magic. And for now, it’s no secret who they plan to pick on Thursday night.
“I’d be surprised if I don’t get number one,” Jabari Smith Jr., Auburn’s top player, told Sportzshala Sports. “It’s just my competitive nature mixed with my selflessness and my ability to just throw the ball, defend multiple positions and care about winning. I don’t care about statistics. I feel like I can help any team right away. But I feel like I’m the No. 1 choice.”
Smith only worked with Orlando and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the owners of the second overall pick.
“The city of Orlando was really good,” Smith told Sportzshala Sports. “They are moving in the right direction. They have a new head coach, Jamal Mosley. It was great talking to him. It was a pleasure to speak with the CEO and you can tell that they are moving in the right direction and have a bright future. I want to be a part of it. I can not wait”.
Some of the prospects, including Smith, spent Wednesday afternoon at the NBA headquarters in midtown Manhattan, hosting a basketball clinic for local youth and packing kits for residents of Covenant House, an organization that supports young people facing homelessness. .
First round prospects in Chet Holmgren, Paolo Bankero, Ochai Agbaji, MarJon Beauchamp, Malachi Branham, Dyson Daniels, Johnny Davis, Usman Dieng, Jalen Duren, Tari Eason, Jaden Hardy, Bennedict Maturin, Keegan Murray, Jeremy Sochan, Blake Wesley, Jalen Williams and Mark Williams were also in attendance.
“That’s just cool, man,” Smith told Sportzshala Sports of the youth clinic. “You see videos of NBA players paying their respects, you see some of the best ever doing that kind of thing. So it’s just good to give and help those in need, and just be here with other players who are about to fulfill their life’s dream.”
The 6-foot-10 forward had a breakthrough rookie season at Auburn when he averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, one block, 1.1 steals and a 42%-of-three shooting percentage in 34 games.
Its versatility and size intrigued NBA staff.
Initially, there was some debate about who would be #1 when the Magic won the draft lottery. Holmgren has been a win-win for most of the 2021–22 student campaign.
But Smith said he always believed he could be the No. 1 pick, even when no one else believed it.
“I just stayed humble, kept my head down, worked with my head down and ignored ratings and tryouts,” Smith told Sportzshala Sports. “I just focused on Auburn, focused on my teammates and focused on winning. I feel like I did it and everything else worked. And I feel like my dedication stands out. I don’t really care how many minutes I get. I just really want to help the team. That’s how I was raised. And I was always brought up to play right and always care about winning, not about personal success. That’s who I am.”
Being selected #1 comes with high expectations. The three previous Magic players chosen as #1 turned out to be superstars.
Shaquille O’Neal was drafted in 1992, Chris Webber was drafted the following year and traded on draft day to the Golden State Warriors for the No. 3 pick, Anferney Hardaway, and Dwight Howard was drafted in 2004.
Smith is expected to be in excellent company.
“Number one elections like LeBron James and many others are putting a lot of pressure. They will brand you pretty quickly if you don’t produce,” Smith told Sportzshala Sports. “I know for most No. 1 picks it’s pretty hard to get into the league with a focus on winning, but that’s exactly what I want to do. I don’t really care what people say about me. I just want to make the playoffs in my first year and the rest will follow. I know if I’m winning, I’m doing something right.”
Draft day has finally arrived. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will name him and his life will change forever. This is the moment he is waiting for, the moment he has foreseen before the masses.
“I’m a little nervous man, like everyone should be,” Smith told Sportzshala Sports. “You’ve been working on this for so long and it’s like a dream come true. So I’m excited and a little nervous. I’m just ready for the day.”