It’s Banchero in Orlando: Magic nabs standout Duke at No. 1

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Paolo Banchero has been insisting for weeks that he thinks he’s the best prospect in the NBA draft.

The Orlando Magic agrees with him.

Thursday’s first draft pick brought the first slight surprise, when the Magic picked forward Duke with the No. 1 selection – after weeks of speculation that Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. or Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren could be the ones at the top of Orlando’s list.

“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.

“I wanted to be in the NBA, but I didn’t know I would be here, man,” Banchero said. “Honestly, I really didn’t.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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