NEW YORK — The night began with a twist, then made a favorable turn for three players with local ties, including one who landed with the Washington Wizards — and back in a building that he has called home the past two seasons.
Former Georgetown star Otto Porter Jr. probably won’t have to do much packing or prepare to move very far after the Wizards made him the third overall choice in the NBA draft on Thursday at Barclays Center.
Porter already had felt that there was a good chance that he would be a drafted by the Wizards. He got confirmation about two minutes before NBA Commissioner David Stern made the announcement.
That’s when Wizards owner and Georgetown alum Ted Leonsis called Porter to let him know that he was the pick.
It ended what little suspense remained for the Wizards after the Cleveland Cavaliers took UNLV forward Anthony Bennett first overall and the Orlando Magic selected Indiana guard and former DeMatha standout Victor Oladipo with the No. 2 pick.
And it also validated Porter’s unorthodox path to the NBA, which included summers spent cleaning his high school gym so that he could practice rather than participating in the recruiting den AAU games.
“It’s a dream come true to get drafted and then getting a chance to play in D.C., where I played two years in college. It’s a true blessing,” Porter said. “This is what I’ve been working for. This is all the hard work in the gym, not playing AAU, and this moment right now is just unbelievable.”
Maryland center Alex Len went fifth to the Phoenix Suns in a draft that brought attention to some of the prominent talent being developed in the surrounding areas of Washington.
In one of the most intriguing and unpredictable drafts in recent memory, at least six players arrived at the arena — including Porter — believing that they had a legitimate chance to go first overall.
The Wizards’ choice of Porter was too obvious to overlook, given his local ties and natural fit with a franchise that has already begun to draft and develop its back court of the present and future in John Wall and Bradley Beal. They also hope that the 6-foot-8 forward could be the complementary piece to help them end a five-year postseason drought.
“We’re very fortunate to get him. He’s a very versatile player, fits in very well with what we’re trying to do. He’s a mature person, plays several positions, a good defensive player, real team oriented guy, and we’re pleased to have him,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. “He has the total package. He has good work ethic. He’s a team player. He can do multiple things out on the floor. He can guard several positions, and he’s a young player who we think could be with us for many, many years to come.”
After hearing Stern call his name, Porter hugged his parents, Otto and Elnora, and little brother, Jeffrey, then embraced his agent, David Falk, and Georgetown Coach John Thompson III. Porter became the first lottery selection from the school since Greg Monroe in 2010.
Afterward, the kid known as “Bubba” in his home town of Morley, Mo., held back tears as he attempted to describe the emotions of sharing the moment with his loved ones.
“It was amazing to see the smile on his face,” Porter said of his father, “and my mom’s face. All the hard work they put in raising me the right way, it’s finally paid off for them.”
During his time at Georgetown, Porter discovered that his name means “wealth” in German. Porter has now stepped into riches beyond his imagination but the salutatorian of his high school graduating class said he “definitely” still plans to pursue his degree.
He said he is elated that the man writing his checks knows the meaning of Hoya Saxa: “That’s a positive to my side. That’s a win-win situation.”
Bennett had also been under consideration by the Wizards, but the Cavaliers made the surprising choice after being linked with either Len or Kentucky center Nerlens Noel. The 7-foot-1 Len was unable to workout for teams as he recovers from a stress fracture in his left ankle that will keep him confined to a walking boot for the next three weeks. Noel won’t be available until at least December as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
So Cleveland, once again eschewing conventional wisdom, elected to go with a player recovering from a torn rotator cuff in his left arm. Bennett is the highest drafted player from Canada, beating out his new teammate Tristan Thompson, who previously held the title after the Cavaliers surprisingly chose him fourth in 2011.
“I’m just as surprised as everybody else. I didn’t really have any idea who’s going number one or number two. I heard everything was up for grabs,” Bennett said. “It’s just like a long-time dream that I had since I first started playing basketball, six, seven years ago. It’s just crazy.”
Oladipo, a native of Upper Marlboro, entered his junior season at Indiana projected to go late in the first round, but made an incredible rise that rivals his 42-inch vertical leap.
He also grew emotional as he described how he was able to turn a pastime that his family considered “a hobby” into a career that will earn him millions of dollars.
“I don’t even know if my family still knows what’s going on,” Oladipo said with a laugh. “I know they’re happy. I know they’re happy for me. This is probably a surreal feeling for them, too, to see the youngest, the baby boy, grow up to be the gentleman that I am today.”
Cody Zeller went fourth to the Charlotte Bobcats before Len became Maryland’s highest draft pick since Steve Francis went second overall in 1999. “Two years ago, I had no idea I was going to be here at this point,” Len said. “But I work hard. I’m really excited to go to Phoenix. It’s a great city, great team.”
Wizards note: In the second round, the Wizards shipped picks Nos. 38 (Nate Wolters of South Dakota State) and 54 (Arsalan Kazemi of Oregon) to the Philadelphia 76ers for Glen Rice Jr., the 35th pick and the son of the three-time all-star sharpshooter. Rice, an athletic 6-6 swingman, played last season in the Development League after getting dismissed from Georgia Tech in March 2012 after a string of off-the-court incidents.