Thursday’s NBA Draft was a night Bennedict Mathurin and Dyson Daniels will always cherish.
It was the night their basketball journeys came full circle, from their early days on the playgrounds honing their skills to shaking Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand on the Barclays Center stage.
Mathurin, a 6-foot-6 swingman out of Arizona, was the first off the board to the Pacers with the No. 6 pick. The versatile wing has a chance to make an immediate impact in Indiana with his shooting prowess and athleticism.
“Having the chance to play with Tyrese [Haliburton], Chris [Duarte] and everyone else on the team is going to be really fun,” Mathurin said. “Tyrese can really pass the ball and he’s a great teammate, so I’m really looking forward to playing with them and having fun playing the game.”
Daniels didn’t have to wait too long to hear his name called. The sizable guard was selected by the Pelicans with the No. 8 pick, and immediately voiced his excitement about joining an up-and-coming New Orleans squad and being mentored by head coach Willie Green.
“Willie has a big basketball brain and played a similar position to me, so I’m sure I’m going to learn a lot from being coached by him,” Daniels said.
The two lottery picks were linked long before Thursday night, though. Mathurin and Daniels are both graduates of the NBA Academy, a development program launched in 2016 that offers on and off-court tutelage to elite high school-aged prospects from around the globe.
Mathurin was the first-ever Canadian to join NBA Academy Latin America. After answering a handful of questions in French in the Draft press room, the Montreal-native touched on how the Academy prepared him for the NBA level.
“The NBA Academy helped introduce me to the NBA lifestyle,” Mathurin said. “Leaving Montreal at 15 to live in Mexico for two years and learn a new language and culture – it really prepared me and helped me grow up.”
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The realization of how far Mathurin had come sunk in even more during his next stop on the press tour – a social media video shoot, where he reacted to an old photo of him meeting Silver for the first time at the Academy.
“It’s really crazy,” Mathurin said. “I was 16 seeing him for the first time and now I’m here shaking his hand three years later.”
Unlike Mathurin, Daniels forwent the college route and opted for the G League following his NBA Academy stint. He turned in a solid season with the G League Ignite, averaging 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 15 games.
The possibility of making it to the NBA became more realistic for Daniels after seeing Josh Giddey – Daniels’ former NBA Global Academy teammate in Canberra, Australia – become the first player from the program to be drafted into the NBA last year by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Daniels named Giddey as one of the individual matchups he’s most looking forward to. The NBA Academy alums are the latest intriguing prospects to come out of Australia, which has increasingly produced NBA talent over the years, from young standouts like Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, to champions such as Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut.
“I look up to guys like Patty Mills, Joe Ingles and Josh Giddey,” Daniels said. “Being able to talk to those guys has been huge for me, and knowing there’s a big Australian presence in the NBA now is great to see and I want to continue that.”
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The NBA Academy is vital in discovering and molding the next crop of international prospects, especially with the league putting more emphasis on showcasing its global stars. Mathurin’s and Daniels’ selections in Thursday’s Draft made it consecutive years in which an NBA Academy graduate was picked in the lottery – a trend that could grow with the academy continuing to produce success stories.
“The academy is the place you want to get to in Australia because of the development and coaching staff,” Daniels said. “The way we get coached prepares us to play in the States by teaching us how to play the tough Australian way.”