Hornets select Davis with No. 1 pick in NBA draft

Posted June 28, 2012, at 9:11 p.m.
Last modified June 29, 2012, at 12 a.m.

NEWARK, N.J. — Best in the country and No. 1 and 2 in the NBA draft. The celebration goes on for Kentucky’s kids.

The Wildcats became the first school to have the top two picks and tied a record with six players taken overall Thursday night.

After the New Orleans Hornets made the long-expected selection of forward Anthony Davis with the first pick, Charlotte followed by taking fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

“It’s crazy,” Davis said. “Michael is a great player. We have two down and four more to go. Hopefully, all of them will go in the first round.”

They didn’t, the only disappointment for the Wildcats. They settled for four in the first round and a tie with North Carolina, which won the race to four picks — all in the top 17 selections.

Harrison Barnes (No. 7, Golden State), Kendall Marshall (No. 13, Phoenix), John Henson (No. 14, Milwaukee) and Tyler Zeller (No. 17, Dallas) all went between Kidd-Gilchrist and the next Kentucky player, Terrence Jones at No. 18 to Houston.

Zeller’s rights were later traded to Cleveland for a package that included No. 24 pick Jared Cunningham of Oregon State.

Jared Sullinger, once considered a top-10 pick, ended up in a draft free-fall over concerns with his back but was finally taken at No. 21 by Boston. The Celtics followed with Fab Melo of Syracuse, giving them two potential replacements if Kevin Garnett doesn’t return.

Otherwise, it was the Wildcats’ night, starting with a hug between Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist after the first selection.

“My arm was shaking and my hands were sweaty. Got up and hugged Michael, my best friend, wanted to hug him for a minute,” Davis said. “When my name got called, wanted to make sure he stayed close.”

He did — following Davis as the next player to climb onto the stage and shake Commissioner David Stern’s hand.

Kentucky got its fourth first-round pick at No. 29 with Marquis Teague, another freshman, who is headed to Chicago as a possible replacement for the injured Derrick Rose. Doron Lamb went 42nd to Milwaukee and Darius Miller was 46th to New Orleans.

Only UNLV in 1977 had six players drafted — but none in the first round.

John Calipari has been criticized for recruiting “one-and-done” players, they stay the required one year and leave, but he looked thrilled hugging his two stars at the start of the night.

It’s been a long time since a school made such an impact at the top of the draft.

UCLA had the Nos. 1 and 3 picks in 1969, when Milwaukee took Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — then Lew Alcindor — and Lucius Allen went third to the Seattle SuperSonics.

Davis will begin his pro career in the same city where he ended it with a national title. College basketball’s player of the year as a freshman was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite shooting just 1 for 10 from the field in the championship game, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking six shots in the victory over Kansas.

Davis slipped on a blue and purple Hornets hat above a conservative gray suit that took no attention away from basketball’s most famous eyebrow. Davis even attempted to capitalize on the attention his unibrow gets, trademarking “Fear The Brow” and “Raise The Brow” earlier this month.

On the floor, Davis has the agility of a guard — and he was one only a few years ago.

The 6-foot-10 Davis averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks, becoming a dominant defender after growing 7 inches from the start of his junior year of high school.

A season after the Hornets traded longtime star Chris Paul, Davis is ready to be their centerpiece, since playing for the Wildcats means he’s already accustomed to plenty of attention.

“Like I said, at Kentucky we had it all the time, especially the six who played, we had the spotlight all the time,” Davis said. “I think it really prepared me.”

Charlotte, coming off a 7-59 season and the worst winning percentage in NBA history, had been open to moving the No. 2 pick if it found the right deal. Instead, Michael Jordan’s team went with Kidd-Gilchrist, whose selection by the Bobcats was loudly cheered, a sharp contrast from the boos Stern received when coming out to announce the picks.

The new Charlotte swingman played in high school at nearby St. Patrick’s in Elizabeth, N.J., and fans chanted “MKG! MKG!” as he walked off the stage. Though he and Davis talked before the draft, they didn’t discuss the history the Wildcats were about to make.

“No. I was shocked at first,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I was shocked. But no, we didn’t. We didn’t at all.”

Florida’s Bradley Beal went third to Washington, making it three SEC freshman in the first three picks. Cleveland followed with the surprisingly early pick of Syracuse sixth man Dion Waiters at No. 4.

Thomas Robinson of Kansas, who hoped to go second, fell to Sacramento at No. 5. Portland took Weber State’s Damian Lillard at No. 6 with its first of two lottery picks, and Barnes was taken seventh by Golden State.

After Washington’s Terrence Ross went to Toronto and Connecticut’s Andre Drummond to Detroit, the Hornets rounded out the top 10 by taking Duke guard Austin Rivers with a pick they acquired in the Paul trade. Rivers hugged his father, Boston coach Doc Rivers, who came to be with his family instead of with the Celtics, who owned two later first-round picks.

Davis was the only clear-cut pick entering the draft, and there were some early surprises. Players such as Waiters and Ross went higher than expected, while Robinson dropped to the Kings.

Houston took Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut at No. 12 with its first of three top-20 picks. But the Rockets, who also had the Nos. 16 and 18 picks, were hoping not to use all of them, instead packaging them for an established player after their pursuit of the Lakers’ Pau Gasol fell through last year.

The Rockets tabbed Iowa State’s Royce White at No. 16 and Terrence Jones two picks later.

For the Celtics, at their best, Sullinger was a productive scorer from the inside and the perimeter for Ohio State and Melo was an outstanding defender who blocked 10 shots in one game last season for Syracuse.

“We think this draft kind of fell perfectly almost for us because we got guys we consider potential starters down the road at the power forward and center position,” Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough said. “By all accounts, they’re good kids and hard workers.”

With Garnett contemplating retirement, the two first-round picks may have to be quick studies and make a speedy transition to the NBA.

“We’ll get both of them next week,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re going to two summer leagues because we anticipated that we’re going to have a lot of work with our young guys.”

Last year’s draft picks, forward JaJuan Johnson and guard E’Twuan Moore, played sparingly as rookies from Purdue.

Sullinger and Melo are better known nationally than last year’s choices. They met in the Elite Eight on the Celtics home court this year with Ohio State winning 77-70 — behind 19 points and seven rebounds from Sullinger — before falling to Kansas 64-62 in the NCAA semifinals.

The 6-foot-9, 280-pound Sullinger, projected as a lottery pick before the season, averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds as a sophomore.

“All the doctors we talked to cleared him,” said Rivers. “I’m hoping that the projections of him before the season are right.”

The 7-foot, 255-pound Melo led Syracuse with 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game while averaging 7.8 points per game last season but missed the NCAA tournament because of academic issues. He had played sparingly as a freshman but was named Big East defensive player of the year as a sophomore.

“We have to teach him the Celtics way,” Rivers said. “We have to teach him how to work and understanding playing as a winner. There’s a lot of work that has to be done, but I love starting with size and potential. He has both of those things and if he has great character then we have a chance.

“For us to get a 7-footer at that pick is a good pick for us.”

Boston obtained the 22nd pick in the trade that sent center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City in 2010-11. Rivers said the Celtics were interested in trading the two picks for a higher one but “for any of the guys we had interest (in) we couldn’t even come close.”

The Celtics also had the 21st choice in the second round, the 51st overall.

They have just four players under contract, forwards Paul Pierce and Johnson and guards Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. Their top unrestricted free agents are Garnett, Ray Allen, Brandon Bass and backup forward Mickael Pietrus.

General manager Danny Ainge said Wednesday that Garnett is deciding between returning to the Celtics and retiring. Teams cannot discuss contracts with free agents until Sunday, but Garnett is an exception because he is eligible for an extension.

Rivers said he couldn’t talk about other teams’ free agents. As for his own, “I like where we’re at right now (with) everything I hear. So I’m excited by that but … I’ve had promises and guys have gone other places. I feel good about our (own free agents), I’ll just put it that way, and we’ll see about everybody else.”

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