Ex-Wildcat Johnson goes to Pistons at No. 8, Hollis-Jefferson lands in Portland
Former Arizona freshman star Stanley Johnson is headed to the Detroit Pistons after he was selected eighth in Thursday’s NBA draft, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson took the long way to get to Brooklyn, but at the end of the night he was a Nets player.
Johnson is the 20th first-rounder and 13th lottery pick in Wildcats history. Before the draft, Johnson said his goal is to be the NBA Rookie of the Year.
"I think I’m the best player in the draft," Johnson said on ESPN’s telecast after he was picked. "I said that with confidence."
Johnson’s final pre-draft workout was with Detroit.
"Like I said in my workout, Detroit vs. everybody," Johnson said. "I’ll be ready to go."
Johnson told reporters after he was drafted, "Coach (Stan) Van Gundy wants me to compete; he wants me to be a dog like I am. He wants me to bring the competitive energy against a LeBron (James) or versus anybody else. I’m ready to compete against the highest level of guards and players in the league."
Part of Johnson’s appeal to the Pistons is his bravado and potential. He showed it in workouts and continued after, including Thursday night when he declared himself to be the best player in the draft.
"This guy is a winner," Van Gundy told reporters. "He’s got incredible toughness and really gets after it on the defensive end of the floor. I said to somebody today, for our fans that go back to the Bad Boys era, this is their guy. This guy is physical, he’s tough and obviously wants to be the best player in the NBA; and he’ll work at it.
"His college coach, Sean Miller, who I worked with years ago, is one of my closest friends so I know the intel we got on him is accurate. I think he’s the kind of player we wanted and more so he’s the kind of person we need here. We got the guy we wanted tonight."
Arizona’s Sean Miller has now coached seven NBA draft picks — five first-rounders — in his six years.
"I’m excited for Stanley to join the Pistons and begin the next phase of his career," Miller said through an Arizona press release. "He is an exceptional student of the game and he told me he wanted to be pushed during his time at Arizona, so I don’t believe I’ve ever coached a player harder than him. Combine those attributes with his tremendous physical skills and you have the makings of a dynamic professional career."
Johnson averaged 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game for Arizona last season. He was named the winner of the Julius Erving Award, given to college basketball’s best small forward.
Later Thursday, sophomore Hollis-Jefferson went to Portland with the 23rd pick in the first round. That was generally in the range in which he had been projected. He was later traded to Brooklyn.
"Patience, believing in God," Hollis-Jefferson said of having to wait in the draft. "My dreams came true; being patient and waiting my turn."
Miller said the Nets are getting a "great player and a great person."
"Rondae is one of those people who can bring a smile to everyone’s face," Miller said. "In addition to his tremendous work ethic, Rondae plays a team game and respects winning above all else. He is far from being a finished product and I’m excited to see how his game develops in the coming years through hard work and dedication."
Not all was good for former Arizona players. Brandon Ashley, who left after his junior year, went undrafted, taking a chance despite knowing he was projected to go somewhere in the second round or not being picked at all. It’s likely he’ll be signed as a free agent. T.J. McConnell also went undrafted. He said this week if that were to happen he’ll sign as a free agent and try to make a team that way.