My Draft Day: Isaiah Whitehead

After his rookie year, Isaiah Whitehead writes about the nerves and excitement of being drafted into the NBA.

If I had to describe the NBA Draft in one word, it’s “nerve-wracking.”

That’s at least how I felt, but think about it, your future is completely out of your hands at that point. You’ve done everything you can do: you’ve worked out for teams, interviewed with general managers, been scouted in high school and college. You’ve put in all the work you can to get you to that moment – and where it goes from there is up to someone else.

So you wait. And you think. You think about where you’re going to go. You think about what the next few years are going to be like. Or you think about what happens if you don’t get picked. Those thoughts suck, but they’re there.

The clock moves slowly, too. I was the 42nd pick and I could swear that every team used their full time for every pick. Forty-one picks equals 172 minutes. That’s about three hours. May as well have been three days.

Honestly, the days leading up to the draft are just as nerve-wracking, so you’ve got to have good people around you. I was lucky the draft was in Brooklyn – my hometown. I had my best friends around to keep my mind off things. If one brought up the draft, the other would get on them. The night before, my mom took away my phone so I wouldn’t stay up all night looking up rumors or mock drafts. I actually got a pretty good sleep the night before, considering.

(Oh, and if anyone that’s going through the draft process tells you they weren’t searching their name the night before the draft just to see what people are saying, they’re lying.)

It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s also exciting and it’s still vivid one year later. I don’t think I could ever forget that night.

Everything from walking in the front door of Barclays Center – our crew was too big to use the back entrance for the players – to seeing the stage for the first time. It was amazing. I had never been to a draft before because I promised myself my first time would be my day to go. I sat down in my seats and took it all in. I swear I was dead silent through the first six picks, just thinking, wow, today is actually the day, hopefully my dreams come true.

It’s a little selfish on draft night, but it’s hard not to think about yourself when you’re there, so you don’t really talk to the other prospects. I didn’t even talk to this guard from Michigan who was in front of me, but now we probably don’t go a day without talking.

(It’s Caris Levert, in case you didn’t put it together. The draft works in mysterious ways pairing us together like that – my family and his.)

Like I said, the time moves real slow at the draft. I was projected to go somewhere between 30-45, but I had no idea where. Brooklyn wasn’t even a thought because they weren’t picking there. It was wide open to me.

My uncle was the one who broke the news to me about being drafted by the Nets. He looked up from his phone and said I was being taken by the Nets at 42.

I’m like “How do you know?”

“Woj posted it.”

I didn’t really know who Woj was at the time, so I told my uncle not to believe it, especially since it was only pick 38. He told me Woj was credible and was picking everybody right, but still, I couldn’t totally believe it. I didn’t want to get too excited because I would have been devastated if I didn’t get picked there. That’s why I didn’t wear a flashy suit either. Imagine getting all dressed up and not getting drafted? No way. I didn’t want a big head, I was just humbled to be there.

If you re-watch the draft, I just sat there with a straight face when I got picked. Everyone else was standing up ready to clap, but I had to hear it for myself. I’ll never forget that moment, but I’ll tell ya, it was a sigh of relief.

The crazy thing is that after so much waiting, everything goes really fast. You hug your mom, you shake some hands and then everyone wants a hold of you. ESPN, NBA TV, local newspapers and TV stations, they all want you for interviews, but they have to get you before the next pick. Forty-five seconds here, 45 seconds there, then it’s pictures, more media, social media just on and on. The weirdest part was that people were asking me about Utah, even though I’d been traded to Brooklyn. Eventually you get to the family room, they give me the right hat and then you chill and celebrate with your family. It’s crazy.

I wouldn’t change a single thing about that night. Sure, everyone wants to get picked high, but I think getting picked in the second round helped with my attitude on the court, my demeanor. My hustle. They say you’ve got nothing to lose as a second round pick, so I play like that. I try to go for the kill all the time and never back down from anyone. If I miss a shot, I miss it. If I make a shot, I make it. But no matter what, I’ll always come back and try again.

So if I have any advice for the guys that are going to be at the draft on Thursday, it’s to stay even-keeled, even though it’s nerve-wracking. Don’t believe the mock drafts and all the noise because no one actually knows what’s going to happen that night. One off the board pick can change everything and honestly, it doesn’t matter how you get into the league – it’s what you do once you get there.

So stay cool. Enjoy the moment. Keep your boys and your family close cause they’ll be with you whether you’re picked or not. The draft is just the first step, so work hard once you get into the league and if you don’t get picked, work harder. I still have a long way to go, but I’ll never forget the feeling of knowing that my journey had officially begun.

And if you want to get some sleep the night before, let your mom take your phone.

Good luck.

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