2009 NBA Draft Notes - Part 1 (Top Shelf)

The 2009 NBA Draft was said to be one of the most unpredictable in recent NBA history. Most, if not all, agreed that Blake Griffin would go first overall to the dreadful Los Angeles Clippers, but after that, no one could agree on who would go where. I was at the Madison Square Garden for the event, hunkered down, eyes open, drinking it all in, jotting down notes as we go. These are those notes, splintered and spiked with random thoughts from Vegas-based basketball trainer Joe Abunassar, who trained PG Ricky Rubio, (#5 overall pick) SG Jrue Holliday (#17 overall pick) and F Earl Clark (#14 overall pick). For more on Abunassar and his facility, check him out here.

There are no timestamps for this diary, but it's mostly in chronological order. So you've got that going for you.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino making a beeline for ESPN announcer (and former Indiana Pacers and New York Knick point guard) Marc Jackson right outside the front door.
 
I'm sitting six or seven rows back from the stage, right next to the "green" room, or at least what we used to call the green room. Now it's just an out in the open spot on the main floor of the WaMu theatre, just off to the right of the stage. Pitino lingered for 10-15 minutes catching up with former Louisville F Terrence Williams, who is likely to be a top-15 pick today (UPDATE - Williams was selected 11th overall by the New Jersey Nets.) His ex-teammate, F Earl Clark, is also likely a top-15 pick (UPDATE - Clark was selected 14th overall by the Phoenix Suns.) Pitino's been beaming like a proud papa for a half hour.

I catch Stephen Curry smoothing down his hair, looking nervous on his cell phone, texting in between commercial breaks.

It's hard to keep up with all the rumors right now. Vince Carter is going to Orlando, Shaq is going to Cleveland, Amare Stoudamire is going to the Warriors. One of those trades did not become official yesterday, but the other two are huge moves, and there seem to be whispers of even bigger moves ahead.
   
Knicks fans seem particularly excitable tonight, not only because the team picked up the 29th pick in the draft from the Lakers for cash considerations. There's a NY prospect (Syracuse G Jonny Flynn), a top-10 pick for the Knicks, and lots of young talent available. There's also a lot of random chanting for ESPN announcers Jeff Van Gundy and Marc Jack-son (clap, clap, clap clap clap) a few crudely drawn handmade signs, and a bunch of homemade LeBron to the Knicks tee-shirts. One dude is holding a custom-made white New York Knicks #23 James jersey. It is quite fierce-looking.

There's a rumor floating around that they'd sign and trade F David Lee, presumably with picks, for the right to move up and take Rubio. The roof will absolutely blow off this place if that happens.

Western NY Jonny Flynn definitely got the biggest pop from the crowd, both for his highlights on the big screen, and just for hanging out at his table. Rabid fans pulled on their jerseys and shouted at him as they passed by. Flynn beamed. It must be nice to have the world in the palm of your hands.

Taylor Griffin being interviewed by ESPN with a "Blake's Brother" note listed beside his name. Not entirely sure that was necessary. They look alike, are sitting next to each other, and share the same name and alma mater.

Things are definitely changing in the world of journalism, in case everyone hasn't already agreed on that. An old guard media type, sitting next to me down on press row, had a player's facebook and twitter page open while working on a draft of a profile on him. Not sure I would have seen that kind of a thing two years ago, much less five or ten.

In inexplicable New York sports fan news, after commissioner Stern was introduced, he congratulated the LA Lakers for winning the NBA Finals. Knicks fans, ever passionate, if not incredibly ridiculous, started chanting "Lakers suck," which is, you know, cute. Shows a lot of class, you know?

The most anti-climactic #1 pick in recent memory is done, as the Clips go with Blake Griffin. "It was crazy," says Griffin. "I mean, when he (David Stern) came out, I felt my heart start to beat real fast. I'm just glad they didn't boo me." Griffin inherits a miserable situation in LA, for a franchise that hasn't won much of anything in years. "I just want to get down to business and start working," he says. "I'm going to be working out as hard as I can. Summer League, I'll be there."

On a short tangent, a word on the food: I had grilled vegetables, like squash, eggplant and red onions, along with a chicken parmesan that I'm already regretting, only 20 minutes after destroying a couple pieces.

I've been bumped up to the balcony media seating, a full flight of steps off the ground level, off to the left side of the room. I've got an obstructed view of the stage, but not of ESPN's Andy Katz, who's ten feet away from me in front of a puzzle-themed set piece. And the way I'm seated, I can see out over the legions of rabid fans, chanting and barking and screaming at the top of their lungs. But yes, second-tier, for sure, and it's a huge bummer.

Hasheem Thabeet goes #2 overall to the Grizzlies in a move that did not seem to change at all from lottery night until this evening. Thabeet may be raw, but he's been steadily improving, and he's a tremendous defensive presence. "I remember Coach Calhoun telling me that if I leave after my freshman year, it'll be the biggest mistake of my life," says Thabeet, who was raised in Tanzania and hasn't been playing basketball for as long as many of the other prospects. Staying in school allowed the coaching to help develop his game. I'm still convinced he'll be a less-mobile version of Dikembe Mutombo, and Dikembe was never a speedster.

The crowd supplies a bigger pop for Thabeet than they did for Griffin at #1 overall. Now the draft really starts, as the Ricky Rubio sweepstakes is officially under way.

(To read part two of my draft notes, click here.)

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