NEW YORK — The No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft belongs to the Orlando Magic. And at this point, it’s no secret who they plan to pick on Thursday night.
“I’ll be surprised if I don’t finish No. 1,” Jabari Smith Jr., the consensus top overall winner from Auburn, told Yahoo Sports. “It’s just my competitive nature mixed with my selflessness and my ability to just shoot the ball, defend multiple positions and care about winning. I don’t care about statistics. I feel like I can help any team right away. But I feel like I’m number 1.”
Smith has only worked for Orlando and the Oklahoma City Thunder, owners of the No. 2 overall.
“The city of Orlando was really beautiful,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “You are going in the right direction. They have a new head coach, Jamahl Mosley. It was great talking to him. It was good to speak to the GM and you can tell they are going in the right direction and the future is bright. I want to be part of it. I can barely wait for it.”
Some of the top prospects, including Smith, spent Wednesday afternoon at the National Basketball Players Association headquarters in midtown Manhattan, where they hosted a basketball clinic for local youth and packed kits to help residents of Covenant House, an organization that young people supports homelessness.
First round contenders 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 present.
“That’s just cool man,” Smith told Yahoo Sports of the youth clinic. “You see videos of NBA players giving back, you see some of the greatest ever to do things like that. It’s just good for giving back and helping people in need and just being here with the other players who are about to achieve the dream of their life.”
The 6-foot-10 forward had a stellar freshman season at Auburn as he averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, a block, 1.1 steals and 42% from three shots in 34 games.
His versatility and size intrigue NBA personnel.
There was initial debate as to who would go for number one if magic won the draft lottery. Holmgren has been a safe bet for the slot for much of the 2021-22 college campaign.
But Smith said he always believed he could be No. 1, even when no one else believed it.
“I just stayed humble, stayed down, worked with my head down and didn’t pay attention to the leaderboards 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 is getting noticed. I really don’t care how many minutes I get. I just want to help the team. That’s how I was raised. And I was always raised to play the game right and always care about winning and not about individual success. That’s me.”
Becoming number 1 comes with high expectations. The three previous No. 1 selections from The Magic proved to be superstars.
Shaquille O’Neal was inducted in 1992, Chris Webber was selected the following year and traded to the Golden State Warriors on draft day for No. 3 pick Anfernee Hardaway, and Dwight Howard was the 2004 pick.
Smith is expected to be in good company.
“The No. 1 picks like LeBron James and so many others, there’s a lot of pressure. They’ll call you broke pretty quickly if you don’t perform,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “I know it’s pretty difficult for most No. 1 picks to focus on winning the league, but that’s exactly what I want to do. I don’t really care what people say about me. I just want to make the playoffs in my freshman year and the rest will take care of itself. I know if I win I’m doing something right.”
Design day has finally come. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will give his name and his life will change forever. This is the moment he’s waiting for, a moment he envisioned in front of the masses.
“I’m a little nervous man, like everyone should be,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “You’ve worked for this for so long and it’s like a dream come true. So I’m excited and a little nervous. I’m just ready for the day.”