Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All the rumors, speculation and smokescreens turned out to be, well, a lot of smoke.
There were no last-second trades or deals cut in front offices. In the end, Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal was selected by the Washington Wizards with the third overall choice in the NBA Draft Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., equaling the second-highest a Gator basketball player had been taken in the draft's 65-year history.
"This is a dream come true, and in the back of my mind I was hoping I was coming here -- my prayers were answered," Beal said via teleconference with D.C. media. "I really can't wait to get around with the guys and get on the court to get things rolling."
Equally happy was UF coach Billy Donovan, who in 16 seasons with the Gators has now seen 16 players -- nine in Round 1 -- take the smiling stroll to shake Commissioner David Stern's hand on draft night.
"It's just great," Donovan said moments after the Wizards made their pick. "To hear Brad's name called and to see him walk across that stage -- with Florida up there alongside his name -- I think it's awesome. I'm so happy for him, and I know he thinks he's walking into a great situation."
On a draft day that doubled as his 19th birthday, Beal was the subject of multiple trade rumors, most of which focused on the Cleveland Cavaliers, slotted fourth, jumping the Wizards and swapping places with the Charlotte Bobcats at No. 2 to pair Beal with point guard and 2012 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.
Apparently, the Bobcats asking price was too high.
Charlotte opted to stay put and select Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist one pick after New Orleans made his collegiate teammate, center Anthony Davis, the No. 1 overall selection. That placed the Wizards on the clock and allowed General Manager Ernie Grunfeld -- waiting virtually no time at all -- to fill the team's need for a shooting guard to run alongside rapid-fire point guard John Wall.
"The way he plays is fast and that's the style of play I love [and] I hope to create some space and be able to knock some shots down for him," Beal said of Wall, who was the No. 1 overall player in the 2010 draft. "I know John had a ton of pressure because he came into a totally different situation than I did. I'm going to try and do the best I can and learn my role. I will do whatever [the team] would like me to do, be a great teammate and always have a winning attitude."
Wall already is on board with that. And Beal.
"We got somebody we really wanted," Wall said. "He's a good player. He is another good piece for our team to grow. We will be able to work together as a team to help him learn and work hard on and off the court."
Washington opted for Beal over the likes of North Carolina swingman Harrison Barnes and Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson, the runner-up to Davis for NCAA Player of the Year.
"We had some really good choices there, but we were hoping he would fall to three. He's a very good young player. He is an outstanding shooter, very good perimeter player and a good defender," Grunfield said. "He has a lot of things to learn in front of him, but we are really pleased to be able to get a player with his abilities and his character."
Beal became the 11th player in Florida history to be taken in the NBA's first round. Center Neal Walk, who in 1969 went second overall to the Phoenix Suns (and one pick after UCLA's Lew Alcinder), is the only UF player to go higher than Beal. Forward Al Horford also went third to the Atlanta Hawks in 2008.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Beal finished second on the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game, but led the the Gators, who went 26-11, in rebounding from a guard spot at 6.7 per. It was in the postseason when Beal's stock soared, as over six games he combined to average 16.5 points on 53-percent shooting from the floor and 46 point from 3-point range, to go with eight rebounds and 3.7 assists. UF advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight round.
"His ability to shoot the ball, it's just something that's very easy for him," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "And his ability to do other things; he has a willingness to defend and rebound, and those are things that go into being a quality player. And then on top of it is the person. That's really the thing that sold me. Not only can he play, but he's a good quality person character-wise."
It's Beal's character and demeanor that allowed him to overcome a tough stretch early in the season as he tried to acclimate from being a stellar prep player -- Beal was named 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year and McDonald's All-American at St. Louis Chaminade Prep -- to Southeastern Conference rookie. There were shooting slumps the likes of which Beal never had dealt with before. But he played through them and eventually took on the mantle of a go-to guy as a freshman; with the encouragement and blessing of his teammates, no less.
Donovan expects a similar transition for Beal, the NBA rookie.
"There are going to be some ups and downs," Donovan said. "I don't think any of these guys go through a rookie season that's all smooth sailing; even guys who happen to win Rookie of the Year. But I do think since he went through some adversity and conflict in his freshman year here at Florida that he'll be more prepared for it, able to understand it and deal with it at the next level."
As for playing with Wall?
"They're trying to build the organization around, so now they have another piece," Donovan said. "Here comes Brad, a high-character kid with a lot of talent. They could form a great backcourt together for years to come."