NBA

Bobcats get top prize with Okafor

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)

The first draft in Charlotte Bobcats history could

not have gone any better. They got Emeka Okafor and a surprise bonus by pickingup a guard late in the second round.

"It was a terrific night," coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaffsaid Thursday.

The Bobcats always wanted Okafor, trading up from the No. 4 pick to No. 2for a chance to get him. But they had to wait and see who the Orlando Magicselected with the first pick.

Although they would have been happy with high school phenom Dwight Howard,they much preferred Okafor, the 6-foot-10 forward who led Connecticut to thenational title.

A crowd of 10,000 fans at the Charlotte Coliseum erupted in cheers whenOrlando selected Howard and it was clear Okafor would wear orange next seasonand represent the NBA's newest team.

"When the Magic chose Howard, I heard a tremendous cheer," team owner BobJohnson said. "I didn't hear one boo, one sigh, one shoot.

"He seems to be the prototype of the kind of player you want to build a newfranchise around and the ovation just means that we got what I believe to bethe people's choice."

Although the Bobcats failed in obtaining a second first-round pick so theycould select guard Jameer Nelson, they rebounded with the 45th pick in takingswingman Bernard Robinson of Michigan.

"I'm really pleased that at 45 we could get this guy," Bickerstaff said."We had him listed in the first round."

It capped a perfect night in franchise history.

Although Howard knew all day Thursday the Magic were going to take him atNo. 1, the Bobcats had to sweat it out.

Bickerstaff said the Magic called him early Thursday and said they weretaking Okafor.

"We were disappointed," Bickerstaff admitted.

Hours later, the Magic called back and apologized.

"When they called apologizing, they said it was going to be the way wepreferred," Bickerstaff said.

But there was still a bit of tension until NBA commissioner David Sternwalked onto the stage in New York and announced Howard was the No. 1 pick.

"We were elated," Bickerstaff said.

Johnson then walked to center court and announced the selection of Okafor.When Stern made it official moments later, fireworks popped and orange andwhite streamers and confetti showered the Coliseum crowd.

Bickerstaff spent five days on Connecticut's campus watching Okafor playlast season.

Okafor said he was aware of the interest and often noticed Bickerstaffsitting in the stands and scribbling into notebooks. But he wouldn't work outfor Charlotte because he figured he'd be selected before the No. 4 pick.

But when the Bobcats traded up, he flew into Charlotte on Tuesday and saidhe'd be thrilled to be a member of the NBA's 30th franchise.

"It's exciting for me to be joining a new franchise, to be part ofsomething new," Okafor said.

Okafor will be the cornerstone of the team that replaces the Hornets, whomoved to New Orleans two seasons ago.

"It's a team, five people on a court working together as one," he said."That's the way things worked at Connecticut."

ned by their team doctor and also arrangedfor a spinal specialist to check him out on Tuesday.

"It was his choice to see the spine doctor and he said he wanted to doit," Bickerstaff said.

Okafor will be the cornerstone of the team that replaces the Hornets, whomoved to New Orleans two seasons ago. Charlotte wants him to be a defensivespecialist, but Okafor said he feels no pressure to be the go-to guy.

"It's a team, five people on a court working together as one," he said."That's the way things worked at Connecticut."

The night did have one disappointment: The Bobcats failed in their bid togain another first round pick to select guard Jameer Nelson.

Bickerstaff worked hard to put together a deal, but in the end, the NBA'snewest team didn't have enough assets to offer.

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