ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Jabari Smith didn’t even try to downplay the importance of what happened. He was in an NBA gym, wore NBA apparel, and took advice from NBA coaches.
It was a big moment for him.
It will lead to a big decision for the Orlando Magic.
Smith completed the first of his two scheduled pre-NBA draft workouts Thursday, the former Auburn All-American doing drills for the Magic — the team that holds the No. 1 pick for the June 23 draft. His other training will be for Oklahoma City, the team that has the No. 2 pick.
“If I said I wasn’t nervous, I’d be lying,” Smith said. “When I came in I was nervous. But everyone who talked to me and got me through it kind of relaxed me a bit. And then just have a little fun with it – I tried that.”
Training at the AdventHealth Practice Facility at the Amway Center, the team’s home arena, was closed to all but Magic personnel. But a few fans kind of jumped in anyway: As Smith’s practice continued, the doors at one end of the plaza kept opening as the flow of prospects kept pouring in – Magic players including Cole Anthony, Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac.
Sometimes there was applause, even a few audible cheers. Apparently, at least some of the viewers were enjoying the show. Smith said he got help from the players who were watching, even if it just meant a few handshakes and a quick compliment.
“It was my first training session, so the first experience I’ll really never forget,” said 19-year-old Smith. “It was fun coming out of here and pushing myself and getting through it.”
The consensus is that there are three players above most in the draft – Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. All are forwards, all at least 6ft-10 tall (Holmgren is a 7ft player), all have played college ball for a year and all seem to be seriously considered for first place.
Smith averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in his only season at Auburn, shooting 43% from the field and 42% from 3-point range. Against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 when they faced Auburn, Smith averaged 20.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. But it’s the two-way game – Smith excels on defense – that could give him the advantage in the race to be No.
“I just think it’s my drive to win that sets me apart,” Smith said. “I don’t care about stats and glamor and all that. I just really want to win and play to win every game.”
When it was over and the workout was over, Smith took a moment to look around the gym and take it all in. On Thursday he was a guest and auditioned.
In a few weeks, that same gym could become a home.
“I think I can fit in really well there,” Smith said. “If you look at the boys and the players, this is a young team, one of the youngest in the league. So adding me would just add another young player who was hungry and had plenty left in the tank. So I’m going to add some energy and just one other person wants to come in and work and get this organization where it needs to be.”
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