NEW YORK — The No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft belongs to the Orlando Magic. And at this point, it is no secret whom they plan to select Thursday night.
“I’ll be surprised if I’m not taken No. 1,” Jabari Smith Jr., the consensus top overall pick out of Auburn, told Yahoo Sports. “It’s just my competitive nature mixed with my unselfishness and my ability to just shoot the ball, defend multiple positions and care about winning. I don’t care about stats. I feel I can help any team right away. But I feel I’m the No. 1 pick.”
Smith has worked out for only Orlando and the Oklahoma City Thunder, owners of the No. 2 overall pick.
“The city of Orlando was really nice,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “They’re headed in the right direction. They’ve got a new head coach, Jamahl Mosley. It was great talking to him. It was good talking to the GM and you can tell they’re headed in the right direction and the future is bright. I want to be a part of that. I can’t wait.”
Some of the top prospects, including Smith, spent Wednesday afternoon at the headquarters of the National Basketball Players Association in midtown Manhattan, hosting a basketball clinic for local youth and packing kits to benefit residents of the Covenant House, an organization that supports young people facing homelessness.
First-round prospects Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Ochai Agbaji, MarJon Beauchamp, Malaki Branham, Dyson Daniels, Johnny Davis, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Duren, Tari Eason, Jaden Hardy, Bennedict Mathurin, Keegan Murray, Jeremy Sochan, Blake Wesley, Jalen Williams and Mark Williams were also in attendance.
“This is just cool, man,” Smith told Yahoo Sports about the youth clinic. “You see videos of NBA players giving back, you see some of the greatest ever doing stuff like this. So this is just good to give back and help people in need, and just being here with the other players who are about to achieve the dream of their lives.”
The 6-foot-10 forward had a breakout freshman season at Auburn as he averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, one block, 1.1 steals and shot 42% from three in 34 games.
His versatility and size intrigue NBA personnel.
There were initially debates on who would go No. 1 when the Magic won the draft lottery. Holmgren was a safe bet for the slot for much of the 2021-22 college campaign.
But Smith said he always believed he could be the No. 1 pick, even when no one else believed.
“I just stayed humble, stayed down, kept my head down working and not paying attention to the rankings and the mock drafts,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “I just focused on Auburn, focused on my teammates, and focused on winning. I feel like I did that and everything else worked out. And I feel like my selflessness stands out. I really don’t care about how many minutes I get. I just really want to help the team. That’s how I was raised. And I was always raised to play the game the right way and always care about winning and not individual success. That’s how I am.”
Being taken No. 1 comes with lofty expectations. The Magic’s three previous No. 1 selections turned out to be superstars.
Shaquille O’Neal was taken in 1992, Chris Webber was selected the following year and traded on draft day to the Golden State Warriors for the No. 3 pick, Anfernee Hardaway, and Dwight Howard was the pick in 2004.
Smith is expected to be in great company.
“The No. 1 picks like LeBron James and so many others, there is a lot of pressure. They will label you a bust pretty quickly if you don’t produce,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “I know for most No. 1 picks, it’s kind of hard to go into the league focusing on winning, but that’s just what I want to do. I don’t really care about what people say about me. I just want to go make the playoffs my first year, and the rest will take care of itself. I know if I’m winning, I’m doing something right.”
Draft day has finally arrived. NBA commissioner Adam Silver will call his name and his life will be forever changed. That’s the moment he’s waiting for, a moment he envisioned before the masses.
“I’m kind of nervous a little bit, man, as everybody should be,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “You worked for this for so long and it’s just like a dream come true. So I’m excited and nervous a little bit. I’m just ready for the day.”