Duke, Wake Forest lead way on busy draft night

The state’s top college players found out their NBA destinations

The Orlando Magic selected Duke's Paolo Banchero with the first overall pick in last Thursday's NBA Draft, one of five Blue Devils selected. (John Minchillo / AP Photo)

There was no barbeque or beach music in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, but the NBA Draft had a North Carolina feel last week.

Six players with connections to the Old North State were taken in the first 26 selections of the draft, roughly one every four selections.

As expected, Duke led the way with five members of Mike Krzyzewski’s final Blue Devils team hearing their names called — four in the first round.

Paolo Banchero was the first overall pick, surprising many experts who had him mocked at third overall. Instead, the Magic pulled the trigger to make the Duke freshman the fifth top pick in program history, two more than any other basketball team in the nation has produced.

Banchero helped extend some impressive Blue Devils streaks in the NBA Draft. He was the 11th first-round pick from Duke in the last 12 drafts, and it was the seventh time in the last nine drafts that a Blue Devil has been taken in the top three. Duke has had a total of eight top three picks over that span, four times as many as any other program.

“We feel he was the best player in college basketball,” Magic President Jeff Weltman said. “And we feel that he will continue to grow every year for many years to come.”

Banchero became the first Blue Devil drafted by Orlando since JJ Redick in 2006.

Sophomore center Mark Williams was the next Blue Devil off the board, going to Charlotte at No. 15. He was the first Duke player taken by the Hornets since second-rounder Vernon Carey in 2020 and the first taken in Round 1 since Gerald Henderson in 2009.

Freshman shooter AJ Griffin gave Duke back-to-back picks, going to Atlanta at No. 16. It was the first time since Jay Williams and Mike Dunleavy went No. 2 and No. 3 in 2002 that consecutive draft picks have been used on Blue Devils.

It’s the second straight year and third time in the last four drafts the Hawks have selected a Duke player in the first round. Cam Reddish was taken with the 10th overall pick in 2019, and Jalen Johnson was selected at No. 20 last year.

Griffin was slotted for No. 11 by the consensus of mock draft experts, but he didn’t seem concerned about sliding five spots and dropping past teammate Williams.

“You hear rumors and stuff of where you might go,” Griffin said. “I thought I was going early. That just motivates me even more.”

“We didn’t really think he would be there at 16,” Hawks general manager Landry Fields said. “We’re excited with what he brings in terms of versatility and a personality standpoint. We couldn’t be happier to have him.”

The draft then veered away from Durham, at least temporarily. The next local player off the board was Wake Forest junior Jake LaRavia, who went to Minnesota at pick 19. LaRavia was then traded to Memphis, where he’s expected to suit up for in the fall.

LaRavia was the first former Demon Deacon taken by Minnesota since Loren Woods was drafted in the second round in 2001 after finishing his college career in Arizona. He’ll be the first Deac to play for Memphis since James Johnson in 2014 and said he is looking forward to sharing the floor with Grizzlies star Ja Morant.

“It’s easier playing with someone of that caliber,” he said. “He’s going to have eyes on him when we’re on offense together. Just being able to play off him and make him look as good as he is.”

“Jake LaRavia is just an incredibly underrated defender coming in,” Zach Kleiman, the Grizzlies executive vice president of basketball operations, said. “We love the versatility he brings, the instincts he has.”

The trade that sent LaRavia from Minnesota to Memphis shipped the No. 22 pick in the opposite direction. That selection was used on Walker Kessler, the Auburn big man who played his freshman year at UNC. Kessler became the first former Tar Heel drafted after transferring since Clifford Rozier went to the NBA via Louisville in 1994.

Duke closed out North Carolina’s impact on Round 1 when junior Wendell Moore Jr. was taken by Dallas with the 26th pick. He is the first Blue Devil taken by the Mavs since Cherokee Parks in 1995. Moore was then dealt to Minnesota, where he’ll join Kessler.

Moore’s selection marked the second time in history Duke has had four first-rounders in one draft, joining the 1999 team.

Duke wasn’t quite done, setting a program record by having a fifth player picked. Trevor Keels went to the Knicks in the second round, No. 42 overall.

Several other players signed with teams immediately after the draft, either with two-way NBA/G-League contracts or Summer League contracts, which are basically a tryout for the team.

ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams signed a two-way deal with the Brooklyn Nets. NC State’s Dereon Seabron signed a two-way contract with New Orleans, while Wolfpack Devon Daniels signed a Summer League pact with Orlando.

Also signing summer deals were UNC graduate student and Final Four hero Brady Manek with the Hornets and Duke grad student Theo John with Minnesota. UNC Wilmington’s Jaylen Sims will suit up for the Raptors in Summer League, Duke transfer Alex O’Connell — most recently of Creighton — for Sacramento, and UNC transfer Garrison Brooks signed with the Knicks by way of Mississippi State.

Whether drafted early or signed late, each of the local players has something in common — they’ll be pursuing their dream at the sport’s highest level.

“I think we can do something special,” Griffin said. “I’m ready to get to work and ready to get some wins.”