The Toronto Raptors opted for potential Thursday night, picking University of Southern California swingman DeMar DeRozan ninth overall in the NBA draft.
DeRozan averaged 13.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists for the Trojans this past season, and was chosen the most valuable player of the Pac-10 tournament — as a freshman.
The 19-year-old entered the draft early to help support his mother, who is struggling with Lupus.
"I felt like I was mentally ready," DeRozan explained. "I was ready to make that step."
"He is a very talented player and he has a chance to be special," Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo said. "Now it is about us putting him in an environment where he can succeed.
"The athleticism that he displays is spectacular at times and I think, if he applies himself the right way — works on his game, the coaches hone his skills — there is a chance to get something special."
Aside from Blake Griffin, who was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers, DeRozan is believed to have the most potential among the Top 10 picks in the class of 2009.
"I think it is very valid, especially with my athleticism," DeRozan said. "It is great to come to a beautiful city like Toronto."
"I don't know if you can find that potential by sitting on the bench and playing restricted minutes," Raptors head coach Jay Triano said, somewhat ominously. "We have to find ways to make him better."
Los Angeles won last month's draft lottery for the right to pick Griffin, and hopes he lives up to expectations.
The last time the Clippers had the No. 1 pick, they picked centre Michael Olowokandi in 1998.
Olowokandi proved to be a bust and no longer plays in the NBA.
"I'm not worried about what has happened in the past," Griffin said. "Just excited about the opportunity."
Griffin, the NCAA player of the year, averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds for the Sooners this season.
"The fact is we're getting an incredible player, incredible person, an impeccable work ethic and a guy that we plan on having in L.A. for many years to come," Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy said.
The Clippers finished 19-63 last season, the second-worst record in the Western Conference, and have competed in the playoffs just once in the past 12 years.
"When nobody expects you to do something, you have time to work and you have time to build," Griffin said. "Hopefully, that is what we will do and hopefully, over the next year or two years, whatever it is, make playoff pushes and become a team that is regularly in the post-season."
'The UConn program helped me out a lot'
The Memphis Grizzlies had the No. 2 pick and took Tanzanian prospect Hasheem Thabeet out of Connecticut.
Thabeet is a tenacious rebounder and shot blocker, but the imposing centre needs to polish his offensive skills.
"The UConn program helped me out a lot," he said. "The whole season I spent working on my offence."
The Oklahoma City Thunder drafted high-scoring guard James Harden out of Arizona State at No. 3 overall.
Memphis freshman Tyreke Evans went fourth to the Sacramento Kings, followed by Spanish guard Ricky Rubio and Syracuse's Jonny Flynn — snapped up by Minnesota with the fifth and sixth picks, respectively.
Rubio's Spanish team, DKV Joventut, is demanding a hefty $6.6-million US buyout from the flashy, floppy-haired guard, often compared to Pistol Pete Maravich.
But the Timberwolves can provide only $500,000 US toward that, meaning Rubio might have to spend next season in Spain.
"I want to play in the NBA," he said. "I don't know if it is this year or next year.
"But we're going to see because, you know, my buyout is big. We're talking about that with my agent and he is working hard."
"If any team in this league can afford to wait a year — dare I say, two — it is us," said David Kahn, recently named the president of the lowly Timberwolves.
Stephen Curry, the NCAA scoring leader from Davidson, was drafted seventh by the Golden State Warriors.
Forward Jordan Hill, a junior out of Arizona, was picked eighth overall by the New York Knicks.
"We were lucky to get a player of his calibre," Knicks president Donnie Walson said. "He is a big man, athletic."
Rounding out the Top 10 was point guard Brandon Jennings, who skipped college last season to play pro in Europe.
He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks.