According to a post-draft statement from Roy Williams, White was also in "serious consideration” for the third, fourth, fifth and sixth overall picks. Not bad for a guy ranked 96th in his high school class three years ago.
Then, in what was considered the surprise of the night, the Phoenix Suns leapt at the chance to take UNC's Cameron Johnson 11th overall. Indeed, though many thought of Johnson as perhaps the best shooter in the draft, he was projected as a late first-round talent, not a lottery pick. White, upon hearing the news, summed the moment up pretty succinctly: “That's crazy. That's so love, bro.”
Hey, at least the Suns know exactly what they’re doing, right?
For one to rise, though, another has to fall. Little would have to wait another hour to hear his name called, eventually being picked 25th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. Among those drafted before him: Tyler Herro, Sekou Doumbouya, Goga Bitadze, Luka Samanic, Matisse Thybulle and, just before Little, former Virginia guard Ty Jerome.
Here’s your reminder that before the year, Little was the No. 3 player in his high school class according to 247Sports, a consensus top-five pick with can’t-miss athleticism and a ridiculous motor.
If he logged the same amount of minutes as, say, Darius Garland, the No. 5 pick who sat out most of last season due to injury, he likely would’ve still enjoyed a lottery pick selection. Instead, Little averaged 9.8 points per game off the bench in his lone season in Chapel Hill – not enough, seemingly, in the eyes of most scouts. That’s why they play the games, as they say.
The good news for Little is that the draft is a crapshoot. Would anyone be shocked if he turned the motivation of his late selection into a long and productive NBA career? Not really. Williams said he was “dying” for Little as he waited to be picked, but called him “the absolute steal of the draft."
In any event, Thursday was still, by any metric, the most successful draft night in nearly a decade from a UNC perspective: three first round picks for the fourth time in program history (most since 2012, when there were four), while Little became the 52nd Tar Heel selected in the first round, an NCAA record. With Cole Anthony’s arrival in Chapel Hill, many expect him to become the 53rd in a year’s time.
Of course, the team that selected you is a lot more important than the slot in which you were taken. For Little, Portland is a franchise with a solid infrastructure, coming off of a Western Conference Finals appearance, with a desperate need for a young, athletic forward to lock down opposing wings: [Larry David voice] Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Chicago and Phoenix, though? Not so much. The Bulls last season were best known for having a drill sergeant as a coach who was still woefully unable to discipline his young players, while the Suns just made their *checks fingers* 258th consecutive trip to the lottery.
Only time will tell if White and Johnson can help turns things around for their new franchises. That’s most of the fun of draft night – the unpredictability. Perhaps the night wasn’t what Coby White, Cameron Johnson and Nassir Little had anticipated, with each having their own reasons as to why.
But that’s over now. The chips have fallen. For three of the newest former Tar Heels, the only thing that matters is what comes next.
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