Saturday, October 21

Two Bruins drafted to NBA

As the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft on Thursday night rolled past the lottery teams, Jrue Holiday was still waiting to hear his name called.

The former UCLA guard who left school after just one season said in April that being a lottery pick was his goal and an important factor in his decision to put his name into the draft.

Yet with teams choosing to draft other guards, Holiday slid out of the lottery and found himself the last player left in the green room at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The anxiety for Holiday and his family finally ended when the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Holiday with the No. 17 overall pick.

Shortly thereafter, former UCLA point guard Darren Collison was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets with the No. 21 overall pick.

“I’m really happy for both these kids and just real excited for them,” UCLA men’s basketball coach Ben Howland said Thursday night after watching the draft with his team in his office.

Thursday night’s results continued what has grown to be quite a tradition for UCLA. The drafting of Holiday and Collison in the first round gives UCLA six players to be taken in the first round in the last four years, tops of any program in the nation. Additionally, there has been at least one UCLA player selected in the NBA Draft since 1997, the longest streak in the nation.

“It was fun and exciting,” Holiday said of the experience. “A lot of anxiety, and there was a lot of energy in the room. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.”

For Holiday, it was also an experience in patience. Prior to the draft, most prognosticators projected Holiday as a lottery pick, meaning he would be drafted in the first 14 picks. Yet teams decided to look toward guards other than Holiday. There were nine guards taken before the 76ers selected Holiday at No. 17.

Holiday said he was not concerned about dropping out of the lottery and is excited to be going to Philadelphia.

“I was just blessed,” Holiday said. “No matter how far down I went, I thought that I would fit in.”

Howland added that Philadelphia is a great fit for Holiday.

“The great thing for Jrue is that he’s with a great franchise,” Howland said. “He’s in a great situation. They’ve got a pretty good team. They had good pieces, and they’ve got good young talent. For a point guard to have a lot of talent, that’s a dream situation.”

In his only season at UCLA, the 2008 Gatorade Player of the Year started every game at shooting guard and averaged 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists. While Holiday played shooting guard at UCLA, he is expected to play point guard behind Andre Miller, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Should Miller decide not to return to the 76ers, it could mean more playing time for Holiday.

“I think that he could be in a situation where he could play a lot,” Howland said.

By being drafted with the No. 17 overall pick, Holiday is guaranteed to make $2.6 million in the first two years, with options for a third and fourth year.

Holiday said that he spoke with the 76ers management, which said that he was at the top of their list of players, though they never expected him to drop down far enough to get him.

About a half hour after Holiday was taken, Collison was selected by the New Orleans Hornets to be the backup to their highly talented point guard, Chris Paul.

“Darren is going to be in a great situation in the league, playing for an outstanding coach in Byron Scott and playing behind maybe the best point guard in the NBA,” Howland said.

Collison, projected to be a late first, early second round pick, sounded very excited about going to New Orleans in a conference call with reporters following the draft.

“The draft board went exactly how I wanted it to go,” Collison said. “Everybody went where they needed to go.”

Collison, a four-year point guard at UCLA who averaged 14.4 points and 4.7 assists per game last season, now has the opportunity to back up what many believe is one of the best point guards in the NBA in Paul.

“It’s a good situation,” Collison said. “I have the opportunity to compete against him every day in practice. I’m happy to be second-string to take the load off him.”

As for the draft-day experience, Collison could find only one word to describe it.

“It was crazy,” Collison said. “It’s something that every player has to experience, but it’s crazy. You never know where you’re going to go. As soon as you find out, it’s like everything is in slo-mo. You’ve worked so hard for this, and now you’re here.”

Though contract negotiations may make for a more lucrative deal, Collison is guaranteed to make $2.2 million in the first two seasons, with options for a third and fourth year.

Former Bruins Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya were not drafted in Thursday’s draft, but Howland said he expects each to take part in summer league games for various teams.

After watching the ninth and 10th players drafted under his tenure at UCLA, Howland expressed how proud he was.

“Another two first-rounders,” Howland said. “That’s pretty neat.”

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