BROOKLYN – Zion Williamson tried his best to hold back tears.
But as the 6-foot-7, 285-pound power forward stood next to his mother and reflected on the life-changing moment that happened a few minutes earlier, he cried out of gratitude. The New Orleans Pelicans selected Williamson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft on Thursday night.
“I don’t know what to say,” Williamson told ESPN after hearing the Pelicans call his name at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “I didn’t think I’d be in this position. My mom sacrificed a lot for me. I wouldn’t be here without her.
“She put her dreams aside for mine. She always looked out for the family first before herself.”
The reigning college basketball player of the year dominated in his only season at Duke. He averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while making 33 starts. He added 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per game with an elite combination of size and athleticism.
Williamson provided the Pelicans with star power at the top of a draft class that included five guards selected with the next six picks and three Duke players in the top 10.
The Memphis Grizzlies used the No. 2 selection to take Ja Morant, an electrifying point guard out of Murray State. He averaged a double-double with 24.5 points and 10.0 assists last season while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field.
Morant was a fringe draft prospect a year ago before taking an enormous leap as a sophomore.
“It feels good to be able to accomplish my dream,” Morant told ESPN. “How I got here is crazy.
“(My confidence) started with me. If you don’t believe in yourself, then who will?”
Duke shooting guard RJ Barrett drew the loudest applause inside of the arena when the New York Knicks took him with the No. 3 selection. Knicks celebrity fan Spike Lee was among those who attended the draft to see Barrett shake hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“I’m just ready for this,” Barrett said. “I want to embrace the city and embrace the team and everything. I’m ready to go.”
Virginia small forward De’Andre Hunter went No. 4 and is expected to join the Atlanta Hawks. The Los Angeles Lakers originally owned the pick but agreed to send it to the Pelicans, who then reportedly shipped it to Atlanta along with Solomon Hill in exchange for multiple draft picks.
The Cleveland Cavaliers capped the top five picks by selecting Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland.
The Minnesota Timberwolves reportedly traded up to take Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver at No. 6. The run on backcourt players continued as the Chicago Bulls chose North Carolina point guard Coby White with the seventh pick.
The rest of the top 10 included Texas big man Jaxson Hayes (No. 8, reportedly to the Pelicans), Gonzaga power forward Rui Hachimura (No. 9 to the Washington Wizards) and Duke small forward Cam Reddish (No. 10 to the Hawks).
The next batch of 10 picks included three players from overseas. The Detroit Pistons selected power forward Sekou Doumbouya from France at No. 15, the Indiana Pacers chose center Goga Bitadze from Georgia at No. 18 and the San Antonio Spurs picked power forward Luka Samanic from Croatia at No. 19.
The Kentucky Wildcats celebrated back-to-back picks, as power forward PJ Washington went to the Charlotte Bobcats at No. 12 and shooting guard Tyler Herro went to the Miami Heat at No. 13. Another Kentucky player, small forward Keldon Johnson, went to the Spurs at No. 29.
The Suns reportedly acquired veteran center Aron Baynes and the 24th pick, which they used on Ty Jerome of Virginia, from the Boston Celtics in exchange for a first-round pick (originally owned by Milwaukee) in 2020.
One player who slid unexpectedly in the first round was North Carolina freshman small forward Nassir Little, who was projected as a possible lottery pick. The Portland Trail Blazers pounced on Little with the 25th pick.
The Golden State Warriors selected Michigan shooting guard Jordan Poole at No. 28. Poole proved himself as a consistent shooter with the Wolverines and could help with the absence of Klay Thompson, who tore his ACL in the NBA Finals.
Cameras showed Pelicans fans crowding the streets of New Orleans and cheering when they heard Williamson’s name called at No. 1.
“Let’s dance,” Williamson said with a grin.
–Field Level Media