GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Inside the Prudential Center, the crowd erupted into a loud ovation Thursday night when the Charlotte Bobcats took Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, from nearby Elizabeth, N.J., by way of prep power St. Patrick High, with the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Moments later, Florida’s Bradley Beal was taken by the Washington Wizards with the No. 3 pick.
Gators assistant coach Matt McCall and wife Allison (left) were in the audience.
“We stood up and cheered like crazy,” McCall said.
Someone had to.
Newly weds of less than two months, the McCalls represented the Florida and the Gators staff on the biggest night of Beal’s young life. His 19th birthday, no less.
It was a year ago practically to the day that McCall met Beal and his family at a hotel in Gainesville for his freshman orientation and enrollment at summer “B” session.
“I asked him if he wanted to go for breakfast and he said no ... that he had a pack of Twizzlers, instead,” McCall said. “He’s come a long way since then.”
All the way to the NBA.
What McCall said he’ll remember and apprecaite most about Beal was that far and away the most decorated recruit in Florida basketball history -- McDonald’s All-American, Gatorade National Player of the Year and two-time USA Basketball gold medalist -- never acted the part of a superstar.
“It’s a credit to him and a credit to how he was raised,” McCall said.
In the ESPN interview immediately after his selection, Beal was asked how difficult his decision was to leave Florida after his stellar first-team All-Southeastern Conference freshman season. He spoke of the close relationships he built with his teammates, but also how much he liked school.
“What I wanted to do in school required a lot of school down the line,” he said. “So it was really tough to give that up, but I knew I had to chase the dream in front of me.”
Beal had not chosen a major at UF. Few freshman do. But his favorite subject was biology, so yes, there could have been a lot of school down the line.
Instead, he’ll be playing a lot of basketball against the best players in the world.
“Brad is the type of person who could stop playing basketball today, not ever dribble a ball again, and decide he was going to be an astronaut or go to medical school and somehow he would figure out how to get it done,” McCall said. “Whatever he sets his mind to do, I believe he can do it. That’s just his makeup. He has an inner drive to be great. And such a nice a genuine human being.”
Worth standing and cheering for.