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Arizona's Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji land in NBA Draft's first round, while Nico Mannion slips to Warriors at 48
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Arizona's Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji land in NBA Draft's first round, while Nico Mannion slips to Warriors at 48

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Arizona put two players in the NBA Draft's first round Wednesday, with Dallas taking Josh Green at No. 18 and Zeke Nnaji going to Denver at 22, while Nico Mannion slipped well into the second round.

However, Mannion received a consolation prize that could ultimately benefit his pro career: Golden State took him No. 48 overall, meaning Mannion will have a chance to start his NBA career alongside Warriors star Steph Curry and coach Steve Kerr, the former UA standout.

"It's not where I wanted to go number-wise, but at the end of the day I think the fit in Golden State is perfect for me," Mannion said. "I think everything happens for a reason, so at the end of the day this is the perfect situation for me.

"I'm ecstatic. I'm still at a loss for words. I've been with my family for the past 30, 40 minutes since I got picked, and I just keep crying, tears, and it's a surreal feeling."

Golden State is also the same team that drafted Mannion's father, Pace, who went No. 43 to the Warriors in 1982 before beginning a long pro career in the NBA and Italy.

Green and Nnaji expressed similar emotion during their post-draft Zoom interviews Wednesday, even though the draft was held remotely, depriving the players of the usual electric atmosphere on the NBA Draft stage. 

"It's a star-struck moment," Green said. "I think it's one of those moments, you don't know what emotion to really express.

"Being with my family, it's awesome. It's something I dreamed of during my whole entire life. For it to really happen is amazing. Obviously, it would have been cool to be in person, but this will never happen again."

Nnaji called his selection "an incredible moment" and expressed religious thanks for his good fortune.

"I'm extremely blessed," Nnaji said, "and I know there's so many people that want to be in this position, but for me to be here, me and my family, we're incredibly thankful.

"It feels great because I've been working to get to the NBA for so long, but I know this is just the beginning."

While Nnaji said he was excited to learn from Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Green was looking forward to starting his NBA career alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

"It's awesome," Green said. "I think being in a situation like that, it's a lot of international players, so it's awesome. Watching them play, super unselfish. They've got superstars in Porzingis and Luka. So just being in that environment and continuing to grow every day, it's awesome."

It looked like a fit from the Mavericks' point of view, too, the way Dallas coach coach Rick Carlisle described it.

"What we needed first for our rosters were wing defenders who can shoot, score and hopefully make plays," Carlisle said of Green in a statement. "We feel he's a ready-made 3&D guy."

It's the fourth time in UA history that the Wildcats have had two players taken in the first round and the first time since Stanley Johnson (8) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (23) did it in 2015.

A native of Sydney who moved to Phoenix in 2014, Green also became the highest-drafted Australian player since Ben Simmons (first in 2016) and the seventh Australian to be drafted in the first round.

According to Hoops Hype's compilation of major mock NBA drafts, Green was expected to be taken between 17-33 overall, with Mannion going between 21-39 and Nnaji between 27-33 -- suggesting that Green and Nnaji's placements were both higher than expected.

Mannion had entered Arizona in 2019-20 as a projected lottery pick but said this week of his lower projection that “I feel I’m better than that.”

Green’s draft stock had remained stable in the first round since he committed to the Wildcats in 2018, seeking to resume playing with Mannion, his longtime friend and club-ball teammate.

Nnaji, meanwhile, blew into an NBA Draft prospect early last season, having become the Pac-12’s Freshman of the Year while leading the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding.

The player Nnaji beat out for the Pac-12 award, USC’s Onyeka Okongwu, became the first Pac-12 player to be taken Wednesday, going to Atlanta with the No. 6 overall pick.

The Pac-12 had six players taken overall in the first round, one shy of its record: Green, Nnaji, Okongwu, Oregon's Payton Pritchard (26 to Boston) plus Washington's Isaiah Stewart (16 to Portland) and Jaden McDaniels (28 to the Lakers).

Overall, the Pac-12 had 10 players drafted, and Arizona's three were the most of any school. The 10 players also included the second-round selections of Stanford's Tyrell Terry (31), Colorado's Tyler Bey (36), Washington State's C.J. Elleby (46) and Mannion.

Green is scheduled to join two of the Pac-12 players in Dallas: The Mavericks took Terry with the first pick of the second round, while they also reportedly traded to acquire Bey after Philadelphia picked him.

While becoming the first of them to be drafted, Green also became the 11th Miller-era Wildcat player taken overall in the NBA Draft.

Since the NBA shrunk its draft to just two rounds in 1989, the Wildcats have still managed to place 40 players in the draft. UA coach Sean Miller has recruited 10 players who were taken in the NBA Draft before Wednesday, including seven first-round picks.

Arizona didn't have a draft pick in 2019 but placed Deandre Ayton No. 1 in 2018 and Lauri Markkanen No. 7 in 2017 before Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson went in the first round out in 2015.

Under Miller, Aaron Gordon (fourth in 2014), Solomon Hill (23rd in 2013) and Derrick Williams (second in 2011) have also been drafted.

Arizona’s first-round picks in the NBA Draft:

2020: Josh Green, 18th, Dallas

Zeke Nnaji, 22nd, Denver

2018: Deandre Ayton, 1st, Phoenix

2017: Lauri Markkanen, 7th, Minnesota

2015: Stanley Johnson, 8th, Detroit

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 23rd, Portland

2014: Aaron Gordon, 4th, Orlando

2013: Solomon Hill, 23rd, Indiana

2011:Derrick Williams, 2nd, Minnesota

2009: Jordan Hill, 8th, New York

2008: Jerryd Bayless, 11th, Indiana

2005: Channing Frye, 8th, New York

2004: Andre Iguodala, 9th, Philadelphia

2001: Richard Jefferson, 13th, Houston

1999: Jason Terry, 10th, Atlanta

1998: Mike Bibby, 2nd, Vancouver

Michael Dickerson, 14th, Houston

1995: Damon Stoudamire, 7th, Toronto

1994: Khalid Reeves, 12th, Miami

1993: Chris Mills, 22nd, Cleveland

1991: Brian Williams, 10th, Orlando

1989: Sean Elliott, 3rd, San Antonio

Anthony Cook, 24th, Phoenix

1979: Larry Demic, 9th, New York

Note: The Arizona program also counts Leon Wood as one of its first-round picks. Wood played for Arizona as a freshman before transferring to Cal State Fullerton. He was taken No. 10 overall by Philadelphia in 1984.

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