A dream day has been completed by Kiwi basketball phenom Steven Adams heading to the Oklahoma City Thunder to begin his NBA career.
Adams was picked at No 12 by the Thunder in today’s NBA Draft in New York, joining superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in a championship-calibre squad.
The 19-year-old New Zealander had to wait an excruciating hour and 20 minutes before hearing his name called out by NBA commissioner David Stern at the glitzy ceremony in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The Thunder were NBA finalists two years ago, but were eliminated early this year when Westbrook was invalided out of the playoffs with a torn lateral meniscus.
The 2.13m (7ft) centre completed an incredible journey that begun in his hometown Rotorua where he first got involved in the sport, was refined in Wellington where he came under the tuition of Kiwi NBL legend Kenny McFadden and has had the finishing touches applied in the United States.
He now becomes the fourth New Zealand-born player to make it to the NBA after trailblazer Sean Marks, the unlucky Kirk Penney and Aron Baynes, who has switched his national allegiance to Australia despite being born in Gisborne.
But he is the first Kiwi to go in the first round, and just the second after Marks to make it to the big league via the draft,.
Adams spent the last season at the University of Pittsburgh where he averaged an unspectacular 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds before shocking hoops aficionados by declaring for the draft.
But the bold gamble has come up trumps for the Kiwi as he has shot up the draft boards after a series of impressive workouts and interviews. He’s rated a physical freak with huge upside, but in need of significant development before he’s ready to play in the NBA.
Several analysts believe Adams will spend at least his first season playing in the NBA’s D-League where young players are placed to develop their skills.
Adams had the New Zealand flag stitched on to the inside of his suit jacket and displayed it for the watching world to see as he strode to the podium to shake the hand of soon-to-retire NBA commissioner David Stern
Today’s draft, in which the world’s top 60 young players were distributed to the NBA’s 30 teams via two rounds of selections, was beamed all round the world live on mega sports channel ESPN.
Adams said en route to the draft that he’d been relatively calm about the biggest day of his young life, but was a little tired.
“It’s going to hit me when I get to the table probably. I slept well, I had like eight or nine hours sleep. It’s just all the travelling I’ve done last two weeks catching up now,” he said.
Adams had been besieged by good luck messages via Twitter prior to the draft, with All Blacks Ma’a Nonu, Cory Jane, Israel Dagg, Liam Messam and Victor Vito, Hurricanes youngster Ardie Savea, former national skipper Tana Umaga, cricketer Jesse Ryder and Tall Black Kirk Penney among those posting their support.
Tall Blacks star Penney, who has made three fleeting appearances in the NBA, told Fairfax Media the young New Zealander’s life was now about to change dramatically.
“I can't imagine what's going through his mind, how quickly his life is changing, and how royally he will be treated,” Penney said today.
“He's worked hard to get to this point, and as a result he's in an ideal professional position. It will be fun to watch and for New Zealand to support one of their sons on the world stage.”
"Steven Adams has been one of the high risers in this draft," said ESPN draft expert Chad Ford. "NBA teams have loved his workouts, loved his interviews and loved him as a person. He's showed more skill than he did at Pitt, and he has an NBA-ready body."
University of Nevada Las Vegas power forward Anthony Bennett, a Canadian national, was the surprise No 1 choice by the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Indiana point guard Victor Oladipo was picked second by the Orlando Magic and Georgetown forward Otto Porter went third to the Washington Wizards.
Widely predicted top pick Nerlens Noel dropped to No 6 where he was chosen by the New Orleans Pelicans.
WELLINGTON LINKS EXCITED
Surrounded by friends and colleagues, a nervous Blossom Cameron said she was thrilled at the pick.
Adams' legal guardian sped across the road from her workplace to watch the draft at a wellington sports bar.
She last spoke to him three days ago and while nervous, he had been looking forward to the draft and attending with two of his brothers.
Going to a team like the thunder was a dream come true, she said.
"The thing is they're a young team, they'll be able to handle him."
Steve Adam's Rotorua family were "deliriously happy", older sister Vivian said today after hearing the announcement.
"We're jumping up and down making a lot of noise, you can hear us from out on the street," she said.
"We're all deliriously happy."
Around half a dozen family members were at Adams' Te Ngae Road family home in Rotorua this morning waiting for their "baby brother" to be selected from the draft.
Brothers Sid and Mohi were already in New York, she said.
Ms Adams said the family had kept an open mind on which team would Adams would be selected to play for.
"We weren't expecting him to go to any team in particular really."
The family had received "heaps of phone calls" from well wishers.
"Quite a few want to be part of our whanau now."
She could not explain the family's sporting success.
"Dad wasn't a sportsman, although Mum was.
"It's all in the genes, having the right bones, and the right attitude," she said.
Younger sister Gabriella could be the next national representative.
She is currently trialling for the Tall Ferns, Ms Adams said.
FIRST ROUND DRAWS:
1 Cleveland Cavaliers – Anthony Bennett
2 Orlando Magic – Victor Oladipo
3 Washington Wizards – Otto Porter
4 Charlotte Bobcats – Cody Zeller
5 Phoenix Suns – Alex Len
6 New Orleans Pelicans – Nerlens Noel
7 Sacramento Kings – Ben McLemore
8 Detroit Pistons – Kentavious Caldwell Pope
9 Minnesota Timberwolves – Trey Burke
10 Portland Trailblazers – CJ McCollom
11 Philadelphia 76ers – Michael Carter-Williams
12 Oklahoma City Thunder – Steven Adams
- © Fairfax NZ News
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