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NEW YORK — Thirty-five years ago, the Chicago Bulls drafted a guard from the University of North Carolina.
Six championships later, Michael Jordan turned out OK.
Now the Bulls will try again with Coby White.
White, a Greenfield School product who played one season at UNC, was taken with the No. 7 overall pick by the Bulls during Thursday night’s NBA Draft at Barclays Center.
Thriving in an uptempo style at both UNC and Greenfield, averaging 16.1 points per game and 4.1 assists in his only season as a Tar Heel, breaking the program record for 3-pointers as a freshman and being named to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s second team.
But his meteoric rise began at Greenfield, where he became the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school basketball history en route to becoming a McDonald’s All-American He’s also the all-time scorer in a single edition of the storied John Wall Holiday Invitational, surpassing Tar Heel alum Donald Williams in 2017.
White ascended into rare company in 2018, when he was named the Tom Ham Athlete of the Year as presented by The Wilson Times despite playing just one varsity sport.
Executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson had said the Bulls would look for an upgrade at the position after Kris Dunn took a step back in his third season. He backed that up by taking the dynamic White, whose wild hairdo is as impressive as his game.
The Bulls missed the playoffs for the third time in four years and finished with one of the worst records in franchise history at 22-60 last season. They got hit hard by injuries in the second season of their rebuild, fired coach Fred Hoiberg after a 5-19 start and went 17-41 the rest of the way under Jim Boylen.
Even so, they believe they have the makings of a winning core with White joining Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. And they saw enough progress after promoting Boylen from assistant coach to give him a contract extension in May.
This was the third straight year Chicago got the No. 7 pick. And if White produces the way Markkanen and Carter have, the Bulls will take that.
The 7-foot Markkanen has averaged 16.7 points and 8.2 rebounds since the Bulls acquired his rights along with LaVine and Dunn from Minnesota in the 2017 draft night trade with Minnesota that launched the rebuild. The 6-10 Carter showed promise last season, averaging 10.3 points and 7 rebounds in 44 games before a season-ending left thumb injury.
The Bulls figure to have about $20 million in salary cap room and could look to add veteran help on the wing and down low.
Duke’s Zion Williamson was the No. 1 pick of the New Orleans Pelicans — a surprise to nobody who watched basketball this past season. But afterward he couldn’t hide his emotions, even though he along with everyone else knew what would happen Thursday night.
“Because I love the game of basketball,” he said. “You can hear people say things like, ‘Oh, that it was likely I was going to go No. 1.’ But I guess you don’t know until you actually go through it. Hearing my name called and I was able to make it on stage without a tear, shake the commissioner’s hand, but in the interview my mom was standing beside me, and my emotions just took over.”
There might be tears of joy in New Orleans, too, after the Pelicans were able to get the Duke powerhouse who is considered one of the most exciting prospects in years.
The 6-foot-7, 285-pounder compiled a career worth of highlights into just one season, becoming the third freshman to be voted player of the year by The Associated Press.
His assault on the rims made him a favorite of college basketball fans, but his game is more than just dunks.
Williamson averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting 68% from the field.
Wearing a white suit, he hugged members of his family and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after his name was called first at Barclays Center.
Williamson will step into an open position in New Orleans, which recently agreed to trade All-Star Anthony Davis, the last freshman to win the AP award, to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I’m going to do anything to win. I’m just going to do anything to win,” Williamson said.
The Memphis Grizzlies also quickly addressed a positional need by taking Murray State’s Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick. The Grizzlies agreed to trade Mike Conley, their longtime point guard, to Utah a day earlier.
They got a good replacement in Morant, who led Division I with 10 assists per game as a sophomore while averaging 24.5 points.
“I have some big shoes to fill in Mike Conley,” Morant said. “He’s a great player. I wish him the best. Like I said before, it just means the Grizzlies see a lot in me.”
RJ Barrett then made it two Duke freshmen within the top-three picks when the New York Knicks took the guard who actually edged out Williamson to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring. Knicks fans hoped they would get Williamson after finishing with the worst record in the league but seemed happy to end up with Barrett, loudly cheering and chanting “RJ! RJ!” when the pick was announced.