Jahlil Okafor's basketball career has gone pretty much according to script at this point, from winning ACC Player of the Year honors as a freshman at Duke, to helping lead the Blue Devils to a national championship, to becoming, at last on Thursday night, a coveted pick in the NBA draft.
If there was a surprise, though, it might have been that Okafor lasted until the third selection, where the Philadelphia 76ers, who owned the third-worst record in the NBA last season, drafted him. He was the first of who Duke players who went among the top 10 picks in the draft.
The Miami Heat selected Justise Winslow, who like Okafor spent just a season at Duke, with the 10th pick. Later in the first round, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Tyus Jones, another Duke freshman, with the 24th pick before trading him to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With the three first-round picks on Thursday night, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski has now coached 31 first-rounders during his tenure Duke. Winslow had been projected to go higher, while pre-draft speculation centered on whether the Los Angeles Lakers would pick Okafor second overall.
But after the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns No. 1, the Lakers chose D'Angelo Russell from Ohio State with the second pick. That cleared the way for the 76ers to take Okafor, who became the fifth Duke player, and first since Mike Dunleavy in 2002, to be selected third overall.
Okafor told reporters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, site of the draft, that he “wasn't shocked” to wind up a 76er, and that he didn't know what to expect entering the draft. He said the Timberwolves and Lakers never answered questions about their interest in him.
“I can't be disappointed,” Okafor told reporters when asked if he felt slighted not to have been picked higher. “I'm in the NBA living my dream. I've been getting a lot of criticism. People in my circle, we're just going to take it with a grain of salt.
“It's easy to shoot at somebody when they're at the top of the hill. I've been pretty much at the top all throughout high school, all throughout college, so I'm expecting it.”
Okafor will be part of a rebuilding project the 76ers have structured around post players. Philadelphia's roster also includes 7-foot center Joel Embiid, who missed last season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot, and 6-foot-11 forward Nerlens Noel.
"I don't know,” Okafor said when asked how all three players would fit together. “It's not my job to figure out. I'll just go there and work as hard as I can.”
During his only season at Duke, Okafor averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds. He scored 20 or more points 14 times, became the first ACC freshman since Joe Smith in 1994 to finish a game with 20 points and 20 rebounds and became the first freshman in ACC history to win Player of the Year honors.
The 6-foot-6 Winslow, meanwhile, averaged 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds and shot nearly 50 percent from the field. The Heat needed to bolster its perimeter shooting and add a scorer on the wing and it apparently liked what it saw in Winslow, who was at his best at the end of the season during Duke's run to the national championship.
Winslow had been projected to be picked as high as fourth but instead had to wait longer than he might have expected to hear his name called.
“It's not about the number I go, it's just about being part of the league and being a part of such a great organization,” Winslow said during his press conference after he was selected. “I'm very happy. You can say a blessing in disguise, but I just see it as a blessing, nothing disguised about it.”
The selection of Jones, the point guard who earned Most Outstanding Player honors in the Final Four, completed one of the most memorable draft nights for Duke. Okafor, Winslow and Jones arrived at Duke amid speculation they might only play one season of college basketball, but they made clear their goal of winning a national championship before they left.
Like their lone season at Duke the draft, then, pretty much went how they envisioned it might.
It didn't so much go according to plan for J.P. Tokoto, who left North Carolina after his junior season.
Tokoto, who attended the draft with his family, was projected as a mid-second round selection, but he had to wait until the 58th overall pick – the third-to-last in the draft – to hear his name called. The Philadelphia 76ers selected Tokoto then.
Trevor Lacey, who left N.C. State after his junior season, wasn't selected.