NEWARK — Putting on that new, red, white and blue Washington Wizards cap was going to have to wait. When David Stern announced that the Wizards had selected Jan Vesely with the sixth pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the 21-year-old forward from the Czech Republic shot up from his seat, buttoned his suit jacket and looked right into the eyes of his longtime girlfriend, Eva Kodouskova.
Without hesitation, Vesely leaned in, grabbed her by the waist and gave her a long smooch that elicited cheers from the fans at Prudential Center. Vesely then laughed at the gawking crowd, placed his new cap upon his head and made the first steps toward beginning an NBA career that became a goal the moment he left his native country three years ago to play for one of the most successful teams in Serbia.
“It was a big moment for me and my family,” Vesely said, explaining how he couldn’t contain his emotions while going in for the lip lock with a girl he has known since elementary school. “I’m looking forward to being in the NBA, to play for the Wizards. I’m real excited.”
There was a lot of uncertainty for the Wizards heading into the draft, but the team came away with one of the players that it had coveted for some time in Vesely, a 6-foot-11 freakish athlete who can run the floor, likes to dunk and will likely make the team a highlight staple with John Wall and center JaVale McGee.
After getting a lover, the Wizards then were lucky to get a fighter in Florida State forward Chris Singleton, a defensive-minded player who they pondered taking at the sixth spot but somehow managed to be around when they selected 18th. They then found a backup point guard for Wall with the 34th pick in Shelvin Mack, who made back-to-back trips to the NCAA title game with Butler.
But while Vesely celebrated his selection with a kiss, the Wizards’ second selection, Singleton, said he was going to celebrate by cussing at the teams that passed on him. One of the 15 players invited to sit in the green room with family and friends, Singleton was projected to possibly go as high as ninth to Charlotte, but was the last player waiting when the Wizards called his name. “I’m going to mark off the teams, cuss them out, in my own words and take it from there,” he said. “You never want to be the last one in anything. But I feel like I’m in the right position right now. I’m happy.”
He said he plans to add an extra dimension to a Wizards team that has been deficient on the defensive end for several years. “I feel like I’m going to fit in right off the bat. We have an up-and-coming team and we are going to try to push to the playoffs.”
The Wizards wanted to add some size with its first draft choice and selected the most NBA-ready prospect among a trio of European big men who were chosen in the top five. He has received a lot of playing time with his team, Partizan Belgrade. He averaged 10.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in the Adriatic league and 9.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in Euroleague play last season.
Members of the Wizards’ basketball operations staff were in attendance when Vesely helped his team win the Serbian title and he held a workout on Sunday for three teams: Washington, Sacramento and Toronto. The draft played out well for the Wizards, who had hoped Vesely would fall to them.
“He’s a guy that’s been heavily scouted, and we just thought that where we had him rated, whether we were going to be at six or even up a little bit higher, he was going to be a guy we were locked into because he would fit so much into how John plays,” Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said. “He’s a willing learner, a quick learner, very much a student of the game, how the game is played. He’s very competitive. He wants his team to win more than anything else. I think he’s a perfect fit for us.”
“We like the players we got,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. “We had targeted these players. We’re trying to improve on the defensive end, and we’ve added a lot of athleticism to our team. Versatility. We’re happy with the way things turned out for us.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick and after much suspense, the Minnesota Timberwolves took Arizona forward Derrick Williams. Enes Kanter, a Turkish big man who wanted to come to Washington and received an endorsement from Wall, was taken with the third overall pick by the Utah Jazz.
With their second choice in the lottery, the Cavaliers made a somewhat surprising selection by taking Texas center Tristan Thompson, a Toronto-area native who became the highest drafted Canadian player in NBA history. Thompson’s hometown team, the Raptors, selected 19-year-old Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas opening up an opportunity the Wizards had been waiting for.
The draft was considered among the weakest in recent years as it relates to producing potential superstars, but many scouts and executives felt that had incredible depth with regards to role players. With so few proven prospects, some teams decided to go after veterans in trades, as Sacramento, Charlotte and Milwaukee made a three-team deal prior to the draft. Charlotte got Corey Maggette from Milwaukee and the No. 7 pick (Congolese forward Bismack Biyombo) from Sacramento, the Kings got the 10th overall pick (BYU guard and national player of the year Jimmer Fredette) and John Salmons from Milwaukee and the Bucks got Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston and the 19th overall pick (Tennessee forward Tobias Harris) from Charlotte and Ben Udrih from Kings.
Irving joined Wall, Derrick Rose (2008), Allen Iverson (1996), Magic Johnson (1979) and John Lucas (1976) as the only point guards to go first overall. Irving, a product of St. Patrick’s High in nearby Elizabeth, received a huge ovation as he stood to hug his father, Drederick.
The Wizards continue their plans of building through the draft and developing young talent, but some of the momentum could be stunted this offseason if the league has a protracted lockout. The collective bargaining agreement expires on July 1, and the league and the players’ union have been far apart in recent negotiations. The NBA also canceled summer league and team representatives would not be allowed to have contact with players during a lockout.
After no international players went in the lottery last season, five foreign players were among the top 10 players taken. The draft order was greatly influenced by four players projected to be high draft picks — Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Baylor forward Perry Jones and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones — all elected to return to college for at least one more year.