Jabari Smith made Auburn basketball history on Thursday night as the first Tiger to be selected as high as No. 3 in the NBA Draft. The six-foot-ten power forward was chosen by the Houston Rockets at the event being held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Many pre-draft projections had the Auburn freshman going as high as No. 1 in the draft, a spot that went to forward Paolo Banchero of Duke. Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga, a center, was the No. 2 selection going to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Smith said that he will have a “chip on his shoulder” after not being picked No. 1 in the draft, but added, “It was a night that I’ll never forget, seeing the smiles on my family’s faces, seeing the smile on my brother’s face, seeing the smiles on my family’s faces in the crowd. It was just something I’ll never forget. Making them proud is something I’ve worked for all my life. My dad just told me it was time to amp it up a little bit, time to work even harder. It’s a new level, whole new game. Just trying to get there and get to work.”
It marked a fourth consecutive year one of Coach Bruce Pearl’s players has been selected in the NBA Draft. Last year JT Thor and Sharife Cooper were second round selections.
Prior to the 2022 draft the earliest picks from an Auburn team were No. 4 with Chuck Person going in that spot in 1986 to the Indiana Pacers and another forward, Chris Morris, being drafted two years later by the New Jersey Nets.
Both of those players were coached by Sonny Smith, who also coached the most successful pro player in Auburn history, Charles Barkley, who was the No. 5 pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984. Barkley, an 11-time NBA all-star selection , is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and was chosen as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players listing.
College basketball analyst, Jay Bilas, said that Smith is an intriguing pro prospect because of his shooting ability. “I think he compares to Kevin Durant,” Bilas said. “That seems blasphemous when you consider how great a player Kevin Durant is. He may be the best player in the world right now. Kevin Durant is, and was in college, an outstanding perimeter shooter who can put the ball on the deck. That is what Jabari Smith is.
“He can shoot off the catch with range, he can shoot it off the dribble and he is very good in the post with a turn-around jumper,” Bilas added. “He is the real deal as far as shooting the ball.”
As a freshman Smith led Auburn to the 2021-22 Southeastern Conference regular season championship. He led the Tigers in scoring at 16.9 points per game while averaging 7.4 rebounds per contest. Smith was also the team’s top three-point threat, making 79 treys while connecting on 42 percent of his attempts, 42.9 percent for all field goals and shot 79.9 percent at the free throw line. Smith was second on the team to Walker Kessler in rebounding. Kessler is expected to also be taken in the 2022 draft.
In SEC play he averaged 17.3 points per game, shot 43.9 percent from the field, 42.7 percent from three-point range and 80.6 percent on free throws. Pearl noted that Smith, who just turned 19 years old, is a great pick, because of his talent and his ability to make his teammates better. “To me he is a no-brainer, NBA all-star,” Pearl said.
Auburn’s coach added, “His game translates to the next level being able to shoot the ball and cover multiple positions.”
The power forward is following in the footsteps of his father, Jabari Smith, Sr., was an NBA second round pick who played for the Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia ’76ers and the New Jersey Nets.
Although he played just one season for the Tigers, the Auburn freshman accomplished a great deal. The list includes:
*National Association of Basketball Coaches Freshman of the Year
*United States Basketball Association Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Year
*SEC Freshman of the Year
*John R. Wooden Award All-American Team
*Associated Press All-America Second Team
*NABC Division I All-America Second Team
*USBWA Men’s Division I All-America Second Team
*The Sporting News All-America Second Team
*Sports Illustrated All-America First Team
*All-SEC First Team
*SEC All-Freshman Team
*SEC Freshman of the Week (six times)
*John R. Wooden Award Finalist
*Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award Finalist
*Naismith Men’s Player of the Year Award Semi-finalist
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