The Philadelphia 76ers selected guard Markelle Fultz on Thursday night with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
The Los Angeles Lakers followed by taking Lonzo Ball as the draft started with a pair of freshmen point guards from the Pac-12 Conference.
Fultz averaged 23.2 points last season at Washington, tops among freshmen, and added 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, the only Division I player to reach those stats. He walked across the stage Thursday night at Barclays Center wearing red sneakers made of basketballs.
“In high school I told my trainer Keith I wanted to be the No. 1 player in the country and the No. 1 draft pick, so it was a goal I set out there, and that’s what I was striving for,” Fultz said.
The 76ers had the No. 1 pick for the second straight year after trading with the Boston Celtics on Monday. Now they add Fultz to a promising young core that includes Rookie of the Year finalists Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, plus Ben Simmons, the top pick from last year who sat out all season with a foot injury.
Ball then got the wish he and his father, LaVar, wanted all along by staying in Los Angeles, where he starred last season at UCLA. LaVar Ball had said his son would only play for the Lakers, and it was clear that would happen when Lonzo got a phone call with the Lakers on the clock. As Lonzo walked on stage to meet Commissioner Adam Silver and put on a purple Lakers hat, LaVar put on a gold Big Baller Brand hat, the company he has started.
“Tonight was supposed to be a good night. Definitely was, and now I’m just focused on playing,” Lonzo Ball said. “Just want to get on the court.”
The Celtics then took Duke’s Jayson Tatum at No. 3, drawing cheers from a large contingent of their fans at Barclays Center wearing green. The Suns took Josh Jackson of Kansas, the Sacramento Kings took Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox at No. 5 and the run of freshmen continued when the Orlando Magic selected Jonathan Isaac.
Silver has talked about changing the NBA’s limit, saying the current rule that American-born players must be 19 and a year out of high school, but teams seem just fine with the current system. The run of freshmen bettered the 2014 record of four straight first-year players to start the draft, finally ending when the New York Knicks took French guard Frank Ntilikina at No. 8.
The top 10 was rounded out with two more freshmen: Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State to Dallas at No. 9, and Gonzaga’s Zach Collins at No. 10 with the Kings’ second pick.