Anthony Davis was taken with the No. 1 pick in the National Basketball Association draft by the New Orleans Hornets, who finished last season with a Western Conference-low 21 wins.
The NBA champion Miami Heat, selecting 27th, picked Mississippi State power forward Arnett Moultrie. The runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder took Baylor’s power forward Perry Jones as the 28th choice.
The Associated Press Player of the Year, Davis led the University of Kentucky to the national championship in his only college season. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks.
“I just want to come in and do the best I can,” Davis said in a televised interview. “It’s going to be very difficult.”
Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Davis’s teammate at Kentucky, was selected second by the Charlotte Bobcats, and Florida guard Bradley Beal went third to the Washington Wizards on his 19th birthday. The Cleveland Cavaliers picked Syracuse guard Dion Waiters fourth overall and the Sacramento Kings rounded out the top five with Kansas forward Thomas Robinson.
“I ain’t stopping for nobody,” said Robinson, “I got work to do.”
Robinson is fighting his father and an uncle for custody of his nine-year-old sister, Jayla, who accompanied him to the draft, the Kansas City Star reported.
In the space of a month in 2011, Robinson lost his mother, who raised the two children on her own, to a heart attack and both his maternal grandparents, the newspaper said.
The Portland Trailblazers, with the sixth pick, selected Weber State guard Damian Lillard, who was second in scoring in the nation with 24.5 points per game. North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes was chosen seventh by the Golden State Warriors, and Washington guard Terrence Ross went eighth to the Toronto Raptors. The Detroit Pistons took Connecticut center Andre Drummond, a freshman, as the ninth selection. Duke guard Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, went next to the Hornets.
Davis, 19, is the third consecutive player and fifth in six years to be selected first after one season in college, joining Kyrie Irving (2011), John Wall (2010), Derrick Rose (2008) and Greg Oden (2007). Davis is guaranteed a minimum salary of $4.3 million under the league’s collective bargaining agreement as the No. 1 pick in the draft, held tonight in Newark, New Jersey.
While ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said Davis is the only “sure-fire star” in this year’s class, he cautioned that he shouldn’t be considered the next LeBron James, the top pick in 2003 who became a three-time league Most Valuable Player and led the Miami Heat to the NBA title this month.
“Davis is separated from the group,” Bilas said on a media conference call this week. “That doesn’t mean he’s LeBron, but he is consensus No. 1 in this draft.”
The Hornets finished the lockout-shortened season with a 21-45 record, tied with the Cavaliers for the third-worst mark in the NBA behind the Bobcats (seven wins) and the Wizards (20). New Orleans has reached the second round of the playoffs once in 10 years.
The Hornets won the draft lottery on May 30 and last week cleared space on their roster for Davis by trading 29-year-old Emeka Okafor and 26-year-old Trevor Ariza to the Washington Wizards.
The departure of Okafor, a 6-foot-10 center who started every game he played for New Orleans last season, will allow Davis to immediately compete for a starting job.
The Hornets received the No. 46 pick in tonight’s draft in the deal and also hold the No. 10 selection.
“We’re rebuilding our team and this is one step in our new direction,” General Manager Dell Demps said in a statement when the Okafor deal was announced. “This trade will provide an opportunity for our young players to develop and create flexibility to add to our core group.”
Davis joins a team with players such as 21-year-old forward Al-Farouq Aminu, 25-year-old guard Greivis Vasquez and 26-year-old guard Jason Smith. Eric Gordon, who averaged a team-high 20.6 points in nine games last season, will be a restricted free agent on July 1.
The team also has a new owner -- Tom Benson, the owner of the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints -- who replaced Hornets President Hugh Weber with Saints executives Dennis Lauscha and Mickey Loomis.
Davis -- the Player, Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference -- has hired a financial adviser to help manage his money.
He told Bloomberg Radio’s “Taking Stock” in an interview this week that, at 225 pounds, he needs to add muscle to be successful in the NBA.
“It would make me become a better player offensively and defensively,” he said. “I’ve been in the weight room putting on weight, trying to get stronger to get ready for the season.”
Davis said he won’t feel added pressure being the first pick in the draft.
“I’m about to play against some of the guys I looked up to and idolized my whole life,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s now your job. You have to go out there, play your hardest.”