To play in the NBA is a dream for any college basketball player. To play in the NBA for the champions would be nice. To play in the NBA in his hometown would be the best.
The Detroit Pistons made all of it a reality for former Tiger Rickey Paulding on Thursday night when they selected him with the 54th pick of the 2004 NBA draft.
“Detroit is a great team and organization, and I want to contribute in any way I can,” Paulding said in a release. “It has always been a dream to play in my hometown with the Pistons and be a part of their great tradition. It’s a great opportunity, and I am looking forward to proving myself in the coming months.”
The Pistons, who defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals, should offer a beneficial situation for Paulding, a 6-foot-4 guard. At the position, the Pistons have Richard Hamilton, who starred during the Pistons playoff run, and Mike James, who plays sparingly. The lack of depth should leave an opening for Paulding.
“They know Rickey, and I think he’s going to have the opportunity in the summer league to prove himself,” Paulding’s agent Doug Neustadt said.
Even if Paulding makes the Pistons’ roster, though, he probably will have a tough time getting into coach Larry Brown’s rotation. Last season’s No. 2 draft pick, Darko Milicic, played 34 times in the 82-game season.
Paulding, who averaged 15.1 points in his senior season, became the third Tiger drafted during Quin Snyder’s tenure at Missouri. Toronto drafted Kareem Rush in 2002 with the 20th pick but then traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers, for whom Rush comes off the bench.
Keyon Dooling attracted the Orlando Magic’s attention in 2000 when they made him the 10th pick. The Los Angeles Clippers then acquired Dooling in a trade June 28, 2000.
Fellow Detroit native Arthur Johnsondid not have the same fortune as Paulding on Thursday, for Johnson went undrafted.
Johnson, who owns the school career records in block shots (245) and rebounds (1,083), led the Tigers in scoring last season. His 17.4 points was fourth best in the Big 12 Conference. Johnson also grabbed 7.5 rebounds.
Johnson and Paulding considered leaving the Tigers after their junior seasons but reconsidered to pursue a Big 12 title and national championship. The senior-led Tigers did not live up to the hype and played .500 basketball for most of the season.
Paulding twice played near home in his senior season. The Tigers began their season with a game against Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, to allow Paulding as well as Johnson to play at home.
The Tigers won the Nov. 29 game 90-85. Paulding had 21 points, and Johnson added 19 points and 11 rebounds.
The season ended near Johnson and Paulding’s hometown when the Tigers lost 65-64 in the first round of the NIT at Michigan on March 16.
Travon Bryant, the third former Tiger seeking to play basketball professionally, will have to wait a little longer as well before he knows his fate in the NBA. No team selected Bryant, but several teams remain interested in having Bryant on a summer league team, his agent Carmen Wallace said.
“Since he’s only 21, that has helped him out a lot,” Wallace said. “His biggest thing is he has such a huge upside. That’s what teams really like about him.”
Among those teams interested are the Lakers and Clippers, New York and Portland.
Wallace said, though, the Clippers might not provide Bryant with a good situation because they have several power forwards.
Bryant, a power forward from Long Beach, Calif, had the best season of his career as a senior. Bryant scored 10.6 per game and had 6.6 rebounds, and he made a team-best 41 percent from 3-point range.
Orlando started the draft by picking Dwight Howard, a power forward from Southwest Atlanta Christian (Ga.) High. Howard’s sleek, athletic body reminds many of NBA MVP Kevin Garnett. Charlotte followed with the selection of Connecticut center Emeka Okafor.
With the third pick, Chicago took Okafor’s teammate Ben Gordon, who will play next to former Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich. Okafor and Gordon led Connecticut to the 2004 NCAA Championship.
The Clippers picked point guard Shaun Livingston, of Peoria Central (Ill.) High, at No. 4. Washington completed the top five with the selection of Wisconsin guard Devin Harris.
In the biggest trade of the night, Washington sent the pick to Dallas with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner in return for Antawn Jamison and cash considerations. Reports indicate because Dallas used the No. 5 pick, it can sweeten a trade for Shaquille O’Neal from the Lakers.
Chicago also acquired the rights to No. 7 pick Luol Deng from Phoenix in return for Iowa State’s Jackson Vroman, the 34th pick, a future first-round pick and cash considerations.
The draft set a record with eight high school players chosen in the first 19 picks. There were six international players selected in the first round and only four college seniors.
“A lot of these guys (Europeans) are not as good as a lot of these seniors, but potential counts for something in the eyes of NBA personnel directors and general managers,” Neustadt said. “A lot of these guys are being drafted on potential or size, and they’re very far away from playing. You saw that in the draft last year and in recent years. The No. 2 pick last year didn’t get off the bench.”
Tony Allen, who won the Big 12 Player of the Year Award at Oklahoma State, became the first Big 12 player selected when Boston took him at No. 25. Colorado’s David Harrison became the second when Indiana selected him with the final pick of the first round.