New York This week marks the fifth year in a row that I’ve made the summertime trek to the Big Apple to cover the NBA Draft, an obvious sign that the Kansas University basketball team has had some pretty good players during recent years.
I’ve covered lottery picks — six in four years — during each of my trips but, so far, have been shut out of the chance to cover a No. 1 pick. That easily could change Thursday, when Cleveland makes its selection as either Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid could be taken at the top of the board. As with any draft, however, until the pick is in, anything is possible.
While we wait for the big night and wade through the countless rumors that will come our way between now and then, here are a few of my most memorable KU-related moments from the past four drafts.
— I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of Xavier Henry’s family after each pick in the 2010 draft came and went without the former Jayhawk being selected. Henry kept his cool and maintained a smile during most of the wait to No. 12, but his brother, C.J., and father, Carl, looked less and less pleased the farther down the board Henry fell.
— During that same year, while outside taking a photo on 5th Avenue during my day with eventual No. 11 pick Cole Aldrich, Henry jumped into the frame uninvited. As Aldrich jokingly told him to get out of there, the two entered into a playful round of boxing. It was at that point that it really hit home that these were just a couple of kids on the verge of becoming multi-millionaires. Good for them for enjoying it.
— One more Aldrich and Henry memory came behind the scenes after Henry walked up the ramp at Madison Square Garden and finally saw his buddy in the back room while both waited to do interviews. After an immediate embrace, Henry let loose with a sob for the ages. Aldrich hugged him tighter and laughed while Henry let go of all of the emotions of the experience and the relief of having it behind him.
— Markieff Morris, in 2011, probably had the most fun of any KU player I’ve covered in New York. With twin brother Marcus working out for the Charlotte Bobcats the day before the draft, Markieff was left to run through the pre-draft parade by himself. He didn’t seem to mind. He had a blast with the media interviews and really turned on his colorful personality and comedic nature. From there, he and the rest of the likely lottery picks went up to a gym at Coe College in the city, for a workout with a group of Special Olympians. Markieff had a smile on his face the entire time and, despite being more than a foot taller than most of the young athletes, got down to their level to really get involved with the experience.
— I’ll also never forget the look on No. 13 pick Markieff Morris’ face when he heard over the headphones, while doing a radio interview with ESPN, that Marcus had been drafted at No. 14 to Houston right behind him. In that moment only two things mattered to Markieff — making sure Marcus knew he was proud of him and that Marcus was OK with Markieff getting picked first. Cool moment.
— Thomas Robinson, in 2012, might have been the most nervous of the guys I’ve covered out here so far. The day before the draft, Robinson handled himself like a pro. He smiled and laughed a lot and seemed truly at peace with where he was and all of the adversity he had overcome to get there. But it was a different story on draft night. Robinson did his best to smile, but the wait for things to get going ate him up. He constantly fidgeted with his phone and stared intently at the TVs in the green room any time his name popped up on the screen. I don’t think Robinson was all that worried about when he would get drafted but I do think he was dying to know where he would land and really believed he should be the No. 1 pick. He wasn’t, of course. That honor belonged to Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Robinson went fifth to Sacramento. From there, it was all smiles.
— Seeing Robinson’s interaction with his younger sister, Jayla, was also unique at this kind of an event. Jayla, who had been shopping with Angel Morris all day, was dressed to the nines but still looked so out of place as a little girl in such a big world. Robinson was there with her throughout the night, though, sitting right next to her and entertaining her however he could. It probably helped keep him from letting all of the anxiety and waiting crack him.
— Best dressed Jayhawk at the draft during the past four years? That had to be last year and Ben McLemore, who wore a clean navy blue suit with a red bow tie and had his No. 23 blue KU jersey sewn into the inside of his suit jacket. McLemore showed it off during a live interview on ESPN after he was selected seventh by Sacramento and then gave me a close-up look as he was walking off the set. Naturally, I tweeted a photo of McLemore and the jacket, and I still see people retweeting that photo today.
There it is. Time for some new memories to be made. Although only Wiggins will be in New York for this week’s draft, don’t be surprised if the injured but always-a-character Embiid finds a way to crack this list in the future.