About a week ago, when CPech did his outstanding preview of Baylor's best-case scenario for the 2014 NBA Draft, we anticipated a relatively subdued night. Two Bears would probably be drafted in the second round with non-guaranteed contracts, they'd get a little airtime but not much, and the program as a whole would celebrate but not treat it as a seminal event. The news from Sunday changed basically all of that.
On Sunday morning, Baylor C Isaiah Austin announced to the world in an interview with ESPN that he had been diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that would end his professional basketball career four days before it was officially set to begin. Immediately, reaction poured in from across the spectrum. Athletes, singers, and politicians alike, to say nothing of those decidedly less famous, offered their condolences and support to Isaiah and his family. They also expressed their immense admiration for his poise in the face of such tremendous heartbreak, and celebrated him for maintaining steadfastly his hope and faith. Where so many might react with anger or bitterness to seeing their dreams shattered, Isaiah showed nothing but strength and perseverance. In media events across the country, he became a spokesman of sorts for a community that didn't really have one before that, and once again it seemed like the darkest time (his diagnosis) directly preceded the dawn. When the NBA announced they were going to honor Isaiah in the middle of the first round of last night's Draft, I expected a relatively subdued occasion where he might be recognized in the crowd, get a moment or two on ESPN's coverage, and that would be it. Instead, the NBA decided to knock it out of the park by announcing him as an actual draft pick of the entire league, bringing him onto the stage with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for the moment he probably thought fate had denied him. It was, in a word, incredible:
Honestly, though I can't stand when people invoke the concept of "class" pejoratively, this was one of the classiest things I've ever seen. The NBA, led by Adam Silver, went out of its way to make Isaiah Austin, who will never set foot on an NBA court as a player, one of their own. I was blown away to the point of being essentially speechless. From the reaction on twitter and the fact that the posts I shared about it on the ODB facebook page have since been viewed over 100,000 times, I wasn't alone. It was a tremendous moment for Isaiah, first and foremost, the NBA, and the Baylor community that embraced him as one of its own.
After that, we had to wait a while to see the second of our two names called. Now, I think we know why. Cory Jefferson, rumored before the Draft to be in-play for the Knicks with the 34th pick they got from Dallas the day before, eventually went with the very last pick, #60, to the Brooklyn Nets. Technically, Cory went first to the Spurs, a prospect that excited many Baylor fans, before being traded. Regardless, he's now an official NBA Draft pick and a Net.
At the time, it seemed weird that Cory would fall so (seemingly) far. The answer, as Baylor Head Coach Scott Drew revealed, is that several teams contacted Cory with interest in drafting him earlier and then sending him to play overseas, essentially retaining the potential upside of his continued development and an open roster spot simultaneously. That wasn't something Cory was interested in doing, perhaps as a result of Pierre Jackson's experiences last season, so he fell. The rumor we heard was that he would work out for the Mavericks after the Draft and perhaps join their summer league team. As a Mavs fan, I would like that immensely, but alas it was not to be; the intervention of the Spurs/Nets at the last possible opportunity meant that Cory achieved his dream of being drafted and will now get every chance to shine. I think I can safely speak for all in saying that we couldn't be happier to see him reach his goals.
Speaking of Pierre, in case you missed it during last night's action: he's finally free! A year after being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers last year and then traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, who opted to stash him both overseas and in the developmental league, Pierre was traded back to Philadelphia last night in exchange for Russ Smith, a decidedly Pierre-like player. For his part, Pierre seemed pretty excited about the move on Twitter, and it appears he's actually headed to Philadelphia already. I like the situation for Pierre because it's pretty clear the 76ers are tanking, and tanking really hard; they've acquired Nerlens Noel (2013), Joel Embiid (#3 2014), and Dario Saric (#12 2014, acquired via trade with Orlando) in the last two Drafts and only one of them, Noel, will play this coming season. Being on a bad team with no expectations other than to be bad means opportunity, especially for a younger player with a bit of buzz about him like Pierre. That's why his trade to Philly puts a nice little cap on what turned out to be an amazing night for Baylor's fans and players, one we're not likely to forget any time soon.
Congrats, everyone! We are certainly blessed to have such amazing representatives in/around the game!