New Orleans Hornets select Kentucky’s Anthony Davis No. 1 in the NBA Draft

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Kentucky fans didn’t need to wait too long for another basketball celebration as Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, two members of the 2011-12 NCAA men’s basketball champion Wildcats, were chosen number one and two in the NBA Draft Thursday, June 28.

The New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats’ respective selections of Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist marked the first time a school had athletes selected with the top two picks of the draft. Kentucky also set a record with six players chosen overall at the NBA Draft, which took place at the Prudential Center in Newark,  N.J.

The 6-foot-10 Davis will begin his professional career in the same city he captured the NCAA title, which saw Kentucky defeating Kansas 67-59 in the championship game. Davis, college basketball’s Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, finished his collegiate career as a freshman with averages of 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game.

At 7-59, the Charlotte Bobcats suffered through the 2011-12 season with the worst losing percentage in NBA history, and were undoubtedly eager to change their fate at draft time. Still, Charlotte was open to shopping their number two pick if a good deal arose. Yet after Davis took the stage to shake NBA Commissioner David Stern’s hand, the Bobcats followed with their selection of Kidd-Gilchrist, who was met with chants of “MKG! MKG!” from the Charlotte faithful in attendance. Recently hired head coach Mike Dunlap afterward assured reporters that the organization was pleased with the pick.

At three, the Washington Wizards selected Bradley Beal from Florida, making it three straight freshmen SEC players to be drafted. The fourth pick belonged to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who surprisingly selected Dion Waiters from Syracuse, whom many believed was chosen too high on the draft board.

The Sacramento Kings sprung on picking Thomas Robinson from NCAA runner-up Kansas, who was arguably the second-best talent of the draft. The Portland Trailblazers selected Weber State’s Damian Lillard at six, followed by North Carolina’s mid-range shooting standout Harrison Barnes, who went to Golden State at seven.

Barnes was one of four Tar Heel players chosen in the draft, tying Kentucky for most first-round picks, and was joined by Kendall Marshall (No. 13, Phoenix), John Henson (No. 14, Milwaukee) and Tyler Zeller (No. 17, Dallas). Zeller’s right were later traded to Cleveland in a package deal that included pick number 24 Jared Cunningham of Oregon State.

The Toronto Raptors chose Washington’s Terrence Ross at eight and the Detroit Pistons selected Connecticut’s Andre Drummond at nine. The Hornets used their second lottery pick on Duke’s Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.

Many players entering the draft were red-flagged during combine workouts as a result of medical uncertainties, which negatively affected their draft stock. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, at one point considered a top-10 pick, ended up falling to the Celtics at No. 21 as result of questions about his back. The Celtics also owned the No. 22 pick, which they used on Syracuse’s Fab Melo, surely stocking up on big men should aging superstar Kevin Garnett retire in the near future.

Baylor’s Perry Jones III, another athlete that many draft experts deemed a lottery pick, fell all the way to this season’s NBA Finals runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 28 because of concerns about his knee health.

 Picks 16-30 are generally considered the part of the first round when gambles are made and teams capitalize on choosing talent and upside, as opposed to filling specific needs within their rosters. Should Sullinger and Jones III’s medical issues, among those of other players, end up not being an issue, look for some heady decision-making by teams’ front office to pay off in the long run.

With the 2011-12 lockout season done and over with, NBA fans can now look forward to a full 82-game campaign in the fall to witness the talent and exuberance this new crop of rookies will bring to the association.