By TIM REYNOLDS
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Paolo Banchero has never worked for the Orlando Magic. He didn’t have to either.
His year at Duke provided all the information they needed.
The final — and perhaps most important — piece to Orlando’s rebuild is Banchero, the 6-foot-10 forward who became No. 1 overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft. He’s met the Magic several times over the past few weeks, taking part in everything from personality profiles to getting-to-know-you interviews, and what transpired in those sessions only served to solidify the belief. from Orlando that he was the best choice.
“We think he was the best player in college basketball,” Magic president Jeff Weltman said. “And we believe it will continue to grow every year for many years to come.”
Banchero averaged 17.2 points in his lone college season, along with 7.8 rebounds and was a third-team Associated Press All-American. There were roars from the crowd at Amway Center — Banchero’s new home ground — when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced just after 8 p.m. that the Magic were in.
It didn’t take long for the Magic to send the official word. Banchero is heading to Orlando, with plans to officially welcome him to his new home on Friday.
“A dream come true,” Banchero said, detailing the moment he heard his name as the No. 1 pick. “It was a really surreal moment.”
Silver graduated from Duke. And as is tradition for the commissioner, he gave Banchero a handshake and a warm hug after the new No. 1 pick put on a Magic hat and took the stage for his big moment.
The whole scene was overwhelming for Banchero, and yes, he cried.
“I had never been moved to tears by anything positive,” he said.
Banchero joins a young core in Orlando that already includes 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz, a pair of top-eight picks in the 2021 draft in Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs, and Cole Anthony – the No. 15 pick in 2020.
Orlando also has the No. 6 picks from the 2017 and 2018 drafts, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba. It’s possible that at the start of next season, Orlando will have as many as six lottery picks, nine top-16 picks and 12 first-rounders on its roster.
There is plenty of room to grow. The Magic went 22-60 last season. Banchero’s Duke team has won 10 more games than the Magic.
“I’m super excited to be heading to Orlando,” Banchero said. “Like, really, I’m excited about the team. I think that’s the most exciting part, hanging out with the team. I feel like we have a really talented team. A lot of guys are hungry , are ready to win, and I’m the same.
Banchero will earn about $10 million next season, the start of his four-year rookie contract, plus whatever he attracts in off-field earnings. Considering he’s a No. 1 pick, out of Duke, with Italian and American citizenship, it’s likely he’ll have plenty of appeal in the endorsement world.
Banchero’s pick came as a slight surprise, after weeks of speculation that Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. or Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren could be the ones atop Orlando’s roster. Holmgren went No. 2 at Oklahoma City and Smith went No. 3 at Houston.
Weltman hinted earlier in the week that the reports may be wrong, even bragging that the Magic pride themselves on keeping big decisions like this a surprise.
They also succeeded.
“I think it’s important for people to know that information is handled discreetly with us from all corners of this business, from agents to other teams to the media,” Weltman said. “And of course when you’re playing poker, you don’t put your cards on the table, do you?”
It was the fourth time Orlando made the No. 1 selection. If the story is true, Banchero is going to have a long career in this league.
The Magic took Shaquille O’Neal with the top pick in 1992. Chris Webber was Orlando’s No. 1 pick in 1993, and he was traded that same night for Penny Hardaway and a host of future picks that ultimately led to Vince Carter and Mike Miller. And in 2004, the Magic selected Dwight Howard with the first pick.
Miller has his fingerprints on that pick, too: He’s worked with Banchero for the past few weeks, grooming him for the NBA grind.
Now it’s Banchero’s turn to be the sought-after rookie, after Orlando decided to choose him over two other highly touted candidates for the No. 1 pick – Smith and Holmgren.
Banchero also became the 13th consecutive player to be drafted No. 1 overall after just one year of college.
“I can’t believe what just happened, honestly,” Banchero said, after hugging his mother – Rhonda Smith-Banchero, a former WNBA player.
Believe it. The Magic are betting a big chunk of their future on the 19-year-old.
“Our team improved a lot tonight,” Weltman said. “Paolo hasn’t played a minute in this league yet and whatever he gets he’s going to have to earn it. Obviously he has a great future, a great future ahead of him.
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