Thursday was my last day of school. I went from sitting behind a classmate to sitting among some of the most renowned sports reporters and basketball players in the world within six hours.
It was my second time going to the NBA Draft with media credentials, so I was more excited than nervous on how I would tackle the night. I arrived at Barclays Center around 5:30, the perfect amount of time to get settled, eat, and locate certain places I would need to visit.
I walked into the Dean Street entrance of Barclays, backpack on shoulders, phone in hand. After going through a quick security check, I made my way to the table to pick up my credentials. Last year, receiving my press pass was one of the brighter moments of the night; it gave me a sense of validity, that this was the real thing. This year was no different. I grabbed by press pass and immediately felt that same sensation...I'm such a rook.
Right after throwing the credential around my neck, I closed my eyes, and said to myself, "just don't do anything to embarrass yourself...be smooth." That reminder was useless after one minute because I got on to an elevator going up when I was supposed to be going down, but the rest of the night went seamlessly.
I took a step off the elevator, waked by the media dining area, and began to see the lights of the main floor. Deja vu kicked in. The lights were intense, but they were the perfect brightness to make me feel alive. It's just a moment you have to experience to understand.
I continued onto the floor, scanning the room for anyone I could meet. Then Jay Bilas walked by, I had to say something.
"Mr. Bilas, good luck tonight."
He turned his head, eyes piercing through my soul. "Thanks," he said with a smile. We shook hands and I went on my way to locate my seat. On my way, I passed P.J. Carlesimo, Lionel Hollins, and Tom Penn. No Bill Simmons...*sigh*. Once I saw where I'd be sitting, I realized it was the same seat as last year which could only mean one thing...WOJ ! I was in the seat right behind the wizard himself. At the table was Anthony Puccio of Nets Daily, awesome guy, great writer. Next, Jake Pavorsky of Liberty Ballers walked in. The whole SB Nation clan was ready to go.
After talking with my fellow writers, I decided to go grab something to eat, but before I left the floor, some draftees were walking in...this part made my night; not that I got to see the prospects, but what the kids were screaming from the stands. D'Angelo Russell's family walked in, and one kid was screaming, "D'Angelo, D'Angelo!!" It was clearly not D'Angelo. Russell's brother was the one walking by, D'Angelo was already at his table. Then the Grant family walked in, Jerian leading the pack. This time two kids were yelling, "Jefferson! Jefferson!." I looked around to see if they could have possibly been trying to get Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's attention, but he was no where to be found. These kids were definitely calling Jerian Grant, Jefferson. That part of my night was topped off when Jerami Grant walked in shortly after, and the same kids called him Jeremiah.
The rest of the time leading up to the draft went by fast, so I took my seat on the floor waiting for Adam Silver to walk out. The first pick was announced, and while some fans were jumping up and down, most expected Towns to be the pick. The most memorable part of the first pick being announced wasn't when Adam Silver took the podium, it was when Woj tweeted it out, and I saw the whole thing typed out and posted. I experienced the making of a Woj tweet.
The next pick was up to the Lakers: either a big man or a point guard. You would think that D'Angelo Russell found out about being picked from his agent or from someone on the Lakers. Nope. Woj got a call, tapped a guy at D'Angelo's table and pointed to the prospect. Woj is that good.
The Sixers took Jahlil Okafor, so it was the Knicks' turn. Adam Silver took the podium, fans were going nuts.
"With the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select Kristaps Porzingis..." then Silver's voice was drowned out by the explosion that took place at Barclays. Fans were booing, kids were crying, Porzingis was rejoicing. Classic Knick fans, booing a guy that just saw his dream come true. If I could say one thing about Porzingis, I would say he is ENORMOUS. Taller than advertised. The rest of the lottery went by pretty fast, each selection went to a table five feet away from me to be interviewed.
I also got this gem of Frank Kaminsky being goofy, as always.
A number of times, Woj turned to Jonathan Givony of Draft Express and said there were trade rumors. Right before the Hornets picked, he said, "Celtics are calling in." So I got ready to hear the great news. Nothing happened.
When it got around to the Celtics pick, I had my sights set on Bobby Portis, and I thought Ainge did too. Woj didn't know who was going to be picked until time was ticking down for the Celtics. It was Rozier. With a look of confusion, I closed my laptop and speed walked to the interview room to see if he would either walk by or answer questions. He wasn't there...great.
I stayed in the room to hear what some players had to say. Seeing these guys express their happiness is really something special. Sam Dekker was smiling the whole way through the interview. He was distracted by the TV on the wall, which was showing the Houston Rockets (the team he was selected by). "Sorry, I'm just watching my team," he said. Jerian Grant walked in with a serious face, I think he was confused after being traded. I overheard him talking on the phone about buying a house in the NYC area.
As I traveled through the hallways to find anything I could write about, I passed Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kelly Oubre, and Porzingis. I've stood next to some pretty tall guys, but none compare to Porzingis, who is 7'3'' with shoes.
The second half of the first round was incredibly long, so when the Celtics came around with the 28th pick, I was camping out in the interview room looking for anyone I could speak to. RJ Hunter was the selection; a pick that pleasantly surprised me, I did not think he would fall that far, but I guess you guys did in our community mock draft.
Once the second round began, I took my seat in the draft room. The stands began to clear out. The second round is called the "Rapid Fire Round" on the floor, and it has that name for a reason; it went by incredibly fast. The Celtics went with Jordan Mickey early on, so when their next second round pick came up, Robert Upshaw was still on the board. And he continued to stay on the board because Danny went with yet another guard in Marcus Thornton.
As the draft came to a close, I took one final lap around the floor and arena. I passed by Fran Fraschilla, shook his hand, and gave him my thoughts on the Knicks selecting Kristaps Porzingis. He agreed that he has a ton of upside. I finished the short conversation with a, "nice to meet you", a smile, and another handshake.
On my trip back to the elevator, I walked through a crowd of first round picks: D'Angelo Russell, Jerian Grant, Justise Winslow. Then I jumped back on the elevator, and within one minute, I was back to being a normal teenager.
Thank you to Jeff, Seth Pollack, JA Sherman, and everyone else that helped me cover the draft. It was an incredible experience, potentially an even better night than last year.