Four Local Players Are Chosen
Four players with Southland ties were selected in Tuesday’s NBA draft, although the group’s most high-profile member wasn’t picked first.
New York chose former UCLA forward Dijon Thompson with the 24th pick in the second round (54th overall), making him the top selection among three players who attended either college or high school locally, then sent his draft rights to Phoenix in a multiplayer trade.
The area’s biggest winner, however, was former Texas A&M; guard Antoine Wright, whom New Jersey nabbed with the 15th pick in the first round. Wright, born in West Covina and reared in San Bernardino, also was the highest pick in Aggie history.
Detroit chose Westchester High center Amir Johnson with the 26th pick (No. 56 overall) in the second round and Pepperdine guard Alex Acker at No. 60 -- the draft’s final selection.
A long day for Thompson, Johnson and Acker ended well.
“I was definitely excited to see my name selected ... a lot of really good players didn’t make it,” Thompson said in a statement. “Just knowing I’m going to report to a team and be able to contribute to an organization ... I’m ready to go to work.”
The 6-foot-7 Thompson improved his draft status in a strong senior season.
After having entered his name for the 2004 draft, Thompson withdrew it when he was not projected to be selected and returned to UCLA. He had his best season while leading the Bruins to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002, averaging 18.4 points and 7.9 rebounds.
“I see Dijon developing into a phenomenal shooter as well as a good scorer in the league,” said Golden State guard Baron Davis, another former UCLA standout, in a statement. “He’s a guy who could definitely be a good scoring guard, forward.”
Wright, 6 feet 7, is considered among the draft’s most versatile scorers. As a junior, he led Texas A&M; to its first postseason appearance in more than a decade while averaging 17.8 points and six rebounds.
At 14, Wright reluctantly accepted a scholarship to attend a New England prep academy. Although initially homesick 3,000 miles from San Bernardino, Wright remained at the school at the urging of his older brother, Wayne Anthony Wright, currently serving a prison sentenceafter having been charged with felony burglary.
In a TV interview during the draft, Wright thanked his brother for pushing him to make “definitely a great decision for me.”
“It helped me mature,” Wright said of attending the prep school. “It helped me to handle being in a tough situation.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-10 center who led Westchester to the state Division I title, averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds and signed to attend Louisville. Attempts to contact Johnson and his representative were unsuccessful.
Comet Coach Ed Azzam said Johnson is in a good situation with the Pistons.
“They’re a veteran team, so he can come in and learn and not have to try to perform right away,” Azzam said. “I think it might work out real well for him.”
Acker, a 6-5 guard, averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot 45.7% in three seasons with the Waves. He expressed relief about being drafted.
“The rounds just kept going and going,” he said in a statement. “I had an idea I was going to be picked, but I didn’t know I was going to be the last one.”