BROOKLYN — There were some twists and turns, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is taking his talents to Los Angeles.
The Hamilton-born point guard by way of a year at John Calipari’s Kentucky finishing school is the latest Canadian lottery pick, the eighth since 2011. Gilgeous-Alexander was initially selected by the Charlotte Hornets, 11th overall, but Michael Jordan’s franchise turned around and dealt him to the Clippers for the 12th pick and a pair of second rounders even though the Hornets had been connected to the smooth, 6-foot-6 floor general.
The SEC Tournament MVP averaged 14.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.6 steals in his lone NCAA season. His mother was an Olympic track star for Canada and Gilgeous-Alexander switched from soccer to hoops when he was younger. He made the right call.
The 19-year-old (he turns 20 in a few weeks) got an immediate introduction to the business side of the NBA when his trade was leaked sometime between his trip to the stage to shake commissioner Adam Silver’s hand here in Brooklyn and when he started running the imposing media gauntlet.
Luckily he had switched hats by the time he sat down about an hour later for his media session up at the podium and hugged Boston College shooting guard Jerome Robinson who went 13th and will join Gilgeous-Alexander in a new backcourt in California.
We asked him what it was like to have the biggest night of his life shaken up the way it was. Turns out, no big deal.
“I was ecstatic to be going to Charlotte, to be going to the NBA really,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
“It’s a great feeling, and whoever I got drafted by, I was going to feel really good. And then figuring out I was going to go to the Clippers was even a better feeling. I feel like I fit really well with them and had a great workout and dinner with those guys and feel really comfortable. I guess I feel like I’m on top of the world.”
Gilgeous-Alexander, who played at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary in Hamilton and with the UPlay Canada AAU team before embarking on the American portion of his basketball journey, described himself as a “playmaking guard, pass-first point guard” who likes to get teammates involved.
“I’m really just willing to do whatever the team needs me to do to win.”
Interestingly, the Clippers had been the only team he admitted to meeting with prior to draft day and they ended up selecting him.
Gilgeous-Alexander is the highest Canadian selection since Kitchener’s Jamal Murray was chosen seventh overall by Denver in 2016. Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett went first in 2014 and the year prior, Tristan Thompson went fourth in 2011, Nik Stauskas eighth in 2014, Trey Lyles 12th in 2015 and Kelly Olynyk 13th in 2013.
Mississauga’s R.J. Barrett is the projected top pick in 2019.
“I feel like we’re on the rise,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
“I guess over the past couple years we’ve gotten a lot more resources and more exposure to basketball over here. The world is starting to realize how good we are at basketball. I don’t think it’ll stop soon. There (are) a lot of good kids over there that have a good potential. I think we’ll be really good. I think this is just the beginning.”
Another Canadian, forward Justin Jackson of Toronto — who played at Maryland — was a second-round pick, going 43rd overall to the Denver Nuggets. He was later traded to the Orlando Magic.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns stayed close to home for their first No. 1 pick. The Dallas Mavericks looked all the way to Slovenia for the player they hope can be their next European superstar.
Shortly after the Suns took Deandre Ayton to start the NBA draft Thursday night, the Mavericks traded up two spots for the rights to Luka Doncic.
The Atlanta Hawks swapped the rights to Doncic, the No. 3 pick who has spent the last year winning championships all over Europe, to Atlanta for Trae Young, the No. 5 selection from Oklahoma.
The Mavericks also gave up a future first-round pick to draft Doncic, who only arrived in New York on Wednesday after helping Spain’s Real Madrid win its league championship after he won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors when they won that title this year.
His lengthy European season kept him from working out for teams, but he knew the Mavericks were interested in having him on their team for what’s expected to be Dirk Nowitzki’s final NBA season.
“I’ve been talking to Dallas a lot. They really wanted me, and they were very, very nice,” the 19-year-old said. “They were very nice to me, and I think we had a very good relationship.”
The Hawks will get perhaps the most exciting player in college basketball last season in Young, the first player to lead the nation in scoring and assists in the same season
“Whatever city I went to, I was going to be able to be comfortable in,” Young said. “I was just really excited to get to Atlanta.”
Otherwise, the top of the draft was dominated by big men, starting with a pair of former high school teammates.
The Suns made the 7-foot-1 Ayton the first No. 1 pick in franchise history. The centre from Arizona averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds in his lone season in Tucson, tying for the national lead with 24 double-doubles in 35 games.
He joined Mychal Thompson — father of Golden State all-star Klay Thompson — in 1978 as the only players from the Bahamas to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
“Having my name called to be the first pick for the Phoenix Suns was mind-blowing,” Ayton said. “Having all that confidence and leading up to that point when I saw Adam Silver came out, I was just waiting for my name, and when he called it, my mind went blank.”
The Sacramento Kings followed by taking Marvin Bagley III, the Duke big man who played with Ayton at Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix in 2015-16.
With Jaren Jackson Jr. going fourth to Memphis, Texas centre Mo Bamba going No. 6 to Orlando and Wendell Carter Jr. following to Chicago, it was an early run of big men in what’s increasingly become a perimeter-based league.
Then it was another guard with Alabama’s Collin Sexton going at No. 8 to Cleveland, triggering chants of Michael Porter Jr.’s name by Knicks fans who hoped they would take him with the No. 9 pick. But they ended up disappointed as New York went with Kentucky’s Kevin Knox.
“They booed (Kristaps) Porzingis (on draft night) and look where he is now. That’s the same mindset I’m going to have,” Knox said. “They can chant Michael Porter all they want. But they got Kevin Knox, and I’m willing to work and I’m willing to get better.”
With concerns over back problems that limited him to only three games at Missouri last season, followed by a recent hip injury that he believe scared off teams, Porter ended up falling all the way to Denver at No. 14, the last lottery position.
In another trade involving lottery picks. Mikal Bridges, the No. 10 pick from Villanova who thought he was staying in Philadelphia with the 76ers — who employ his mother — but was dealt to Phoenix for the rights to No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith of Texas Tech and a 2012 first-round pick from the Miami Heat.
The Holiday brothers had an NBA reunion when Aaron Holiday was taken at No. 23 by Indiana. Brothers Jrue and Justin already play in the league.
— With files from Associated Press