As Jan Vesely worked his way through the bowels of Prudential Center, doing interviews, taking pictures and just enjoying his initial moments as an NBA player, his girlfriend, Eva Kodouskova, and his sister, Hana, waited in a hallway pleasantly taking it all in. Kodouskova later admitted that she was a little apprehensive about returning to the main floor at the arena after getting an abundance of attention for her soon-to-be-YouTube-sensation kiss with Vesely.
But she’s popular now, what’s to complain about? “That was my goal, actually,” Kodouskova said with a laugh. “I’m just kidding.”
When he spotted Kodouskova talking to reporters, Vesely again took advantage of the opportunity to share another kiss with his long-time girlfriend, who is a decent basketball player in her own right. Vesely certainly couldn’t contain his emotions about going to Washington, but the Wizards were equally ecstatic about how the draft turned out for them.
They went in with the goal of addressing some of their weaknesses. They wanted to get a big man with the sixth pick. They got Vesely, a player most scouts consider to be the most NBA ready among the nine international players taken in the first round. Czech!
They wanted to get a perimeter defender. They got Chris Singleton, a player who earned his stripes last summer defending every player from Derrick Rose to Kevin Durant for the Team USA select squad that trained with the eventual world champions in Turkey. Czech!
And, they wanted to find an experienced backup point guard that hails from a successful college program to back up John Wall. They got Shelvin Mack, a junior who helped Butler reach the NCAA championship game the past two seasons. Czech!
They weren’t able to add a perimeter shooting, one of their other pressing needs, but again, they only had three picks and they would have had a hard time doing much better than they did. Considering the players that went directly after Vesely, the Wizards did more than just make the best of the situation. And they probably should send Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant a thank you note.
The Cavaliers had been rumored to be interested in Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas at fourth after holding a secret workout with him two days before the draft, but with his contract buyout situation still in limbo, they elected to take Texas center Tristan Thompson. Earlier in the day, I thought that either Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker had to go in the top five to make sure that the Wizards got one of the desired big men from its draft board -- one of the J.V. boys.
“Tristan Thompson was probably a little bit of a surprise,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. “We had him rated high, but nobody I don’t think had him rated the fourth spot, so I think that kind of changed things a little bit at the very top.”
The Raptors -- one of three teams to see Vesely’s workout on Sunday and the most likely competition to take Vesely -- decided to take a chance on Valanciunas with the fifth pick. That meant that Vesely, a player that the Wizards have coveted since last season, was there for the taking and they quickly passed on the word to his agent, Arn Tellem.
Before people try to start comparing Vesely to Oleksiy Pecherov or other international busts in Washington; just remember, he’s a different guy. He doesn’t fit the stereotype of a European player who shoots perimeter jumpers (because he’s not a good shooter). He’s an aggressive, athletic player who attacks the rim hard. He certainly has flaws in his game, but his effort is usually always there. His game wasn’t going to grow much more in Serbia. He had to come to the United States to get better. And, he is already prepared to practice some dunks with JaVale McGee after claiming that he would like to compete in the Slam Dunk contest as well.
“We think Jan can play,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “We think he can come in right away, and he can be a guy that can be a rotation guy and can play for us. He’s a freak athlete. Maybe the greatest skill that he has -- outside of kissing -- is probably how hard he plays. He plays unbelievably hard. He’s got a high motor, and that goes along with how we played at the end of the year when we had success.”
Vesely also has a playful side that wasn’t revealed in his interviews, as he labored through his broken English, but in his interactions with his loved ones. Kodouskova said that he never let on that he had any worries about how the day would turn out.
“I don’t think he was nervous. He’s the kind of guy, he doesn’t take it seriously. He takes it how it goes,” she said. “He likes to be in the center of the attention.”
Utah used the third overall pick to take Enes Kanter, which was disappointing to some, including John Wall who wanted to see his fellow Kentucky alum join him in Washington. Grunfeld admitted that the team had talks about possibly moving up to take Kanter but decided to sit back and see how it all worked out. They wound up with a player they have long wanted to get in a Wizards uniform.
“You don’t know who’s going to be available. You don’t know what teams in front of you do,” Grunfeld said. “We had some conversations, but we just felt like that they never came to fruition, so we felt comfortable in the position we were in.”
The Wizards were also comfortable with the 18th spot, where they thought they would have to get a wing player or shooter but wound up getting the best perimeter defender in the draft -- a player that one Western Conference executive thought the Wizards should’ve taken with the sixth pick.
“We didn’t think [Singleton] would be there at 18, so we didn’t think it was realistic, but that’s the way the draft goes,” Grunfeld said. “You never know. Everybody ranks their players a bit different, and we were fortunate enough to be able to get him down there.”
The best part about getting Singleton is that he comes from the trade that keeps giving – the Kirk Hinrich deal from last summer, which has now yielded Jordan Crawford, Kevin Seraphin, Mike Bibby’s buyout savings and now a hard-working blue-collar player who now has a huge chip on his shoulder after sliding out of the lottery.
“I felt like my value was higher than what I got picked but I’m fine with it. It’s just the way life goes. I mean just like everybody else, you keep track of things. We’re going to see,” he said. “I was pretty confident they were high on me. There were other teams, but a lot of people fell in different positions, and a lot of people didn’t think they were going to go in certain places. It just worked out the way it did. I’m a Wizard now.”
McGee even took to praising the pick on Twitter, saying that Singleton’s presence could possibly keep him from making posters for getting dunked on next season.
Singleton’s offensive game is still a bit limited, but he should be able to get some easy buckets simply by running the floor with Wall. “I’m a developing offensive player. Everybody knows that,” Singleton said. “My shot is getting better and my ball handling is getting better and my play handling is getting better. I feel like the team we have got…me, just going in there with Vesely and Shelvin Mack, I feel like we can contribute right off the bat. I feel like we’re all dedicated to just proving everyone wrong, just push our team and try to get over the hump.”
Saunders was a huge fan of Mack going into the draft, believing that he had the toughness and confidence to be a solid floor leader off the bench and take the pressure off of Wall from time to time. The Wizards thought that he, too, would be long gone before they were picking in the second round.
“Again, we had him rated a little bit higher than where we got him at, but that’s the way the draft works,” Grunfeld said. “You never know how people in front of you have players rated, and we were fortunate that he was there for us.”
After getting what they wanted, the Wizards will now have to put it all together. But they really can’t complain about how it all turned out. They were fortunate. They were pleased. And like Vesely, they were elated.
“I’m happy to be in Washington,” he said.