Priority on the People: Thunder Proud to Introduce 2021 Draft Class
Flights were promptly arranged, hotel rooms secured and a suite at the newly-branded Paycom Center adorned with all sorts of amenities. In the 48 hours after the NBA Draft, the Thunder was ready to welcome the newest members of the Thunder with the type of respect and reverence reserved for family – which is exactly what they now are.
On Saturday the Thunder introduced rookies Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins to a crowd of team officials, community heroes and media. Freshly-pressed jerseys were presented and the four NBA dreamers held their Thunder threads proudly as Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti beamed. The message from Presti was clear – the quartet of newcomers were selected first and foremost because of the type of people they are. In Oklahoma City, the type of citizen joining the organization is the highest priority.
“We draw a lot of our inspiration from the people in Oklahoma,” Presti said. “Hardworking, values-based, high-character. We want to be representative of that. I think this group of people, as you get to know them, will resonate with you both on and off the floor.”
As Presti gushed, the four players’ families blushed. Sitting in the first few rows of the press conference on the club level of Paycom Center, the four players’ families got to look on as Presti praised the new group of players for their makeup and noted that each were prepared mentally for the arduous task ahead of consistent improvement. Media members peppered questions to each of the players, and they all spoke about their own games and approaches to becoming professionals and also what it meant to know that the Thunder organization values them holistically, not just on the floor.
“It’s showing that everything that I did from being a person, basketball player, student, everything paid off,” said Mann, who was selected 18th overall out of the University of Florida and will wear number 23 for the Thunder. “It feels great to hear that.”
“It gives a lot of credit to my mom, the people around me that kind of helped me become who I am today,” said Robinson-Earl, a Kansas City native and Villanova Wildcat whom the Thunder traded up to select at 32nd overall. He’ll wear number 50.
The headlining selection for the Thunder at Thursday’s draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn was 18-year-old Josh Giddey, a dynamic playmaker drafted sixth overall who Presti called simply “a basketball player” when pressed on what exact position he’ll play. Giddey, who grew up in Melbourne and began playing in Australia’s NBL for the Adelaide 36ers, already understands a thing or two about the generosity of spirit required to be a fruitful member of a professional club.
“Being a good person off the court is such a big part of having a good, sound organization,” said Giddey in his Australian accent. “That’s what Sam really empowers, having good dudes. I think we have a bunch of them on this team. It’s a big part of culture, purpose going forward. It’s a young team, so hopefully this can be something special leading to success in coming years.”
Giddey, who will wear number 3 for the Thunder, comes from a family of basketballers, including both his parents and his sister, who plays at Tulsa’s Oral Roberts University. That’ll make trips across the Pacific Ocean very efficient for the Giddey family moving forward and will keep the youngster connected to the people that helped shape him as a child.
While Giddey was off and shaking NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand very early on Thursday night, Wiggins had to wait until the 55th pick to finally hear his name called. As a result, his level of gratitude was brimming off of him as he held up his number 21 jersey. As a child Wiggins’ family taught him to be well-rounded, encouraging him to take up music, dance and theater in addition to athletics. His ability to connect with those of all stripes will pay dividends, and it’s a quality he sees in the Thunder’s philosophy too.
“This organization is really personable and just being able to talk to people and get to know who they are and their character and everything, it's been really fun,” said Wiggins. “It's awesome knowing that you know they think highly of you as a person, and it's not just basketball.”
BTS no kpop pic.twitter.com/xtg4oo6D5C— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) August 1, 2021
Each of the four players the Thunder has brought into the organization bring unique attributes to the floor – Giddey’s an impressive passer, Mann a knockdown shooter, Robinson-Earl a physical defender and Wiggins an eye-catching athlete. There will be plenty of time, starting with Summer League next weekend, to get a baseline evaluation on where each player is and where they can grow. What matters right now, on the first day of their Thunder journey, is the approach they bring to the organization.
“Dynamic talents, different skills, different approaches, come from all over the world, but they have one thing in common,” Presti said. “They know how to work, and they know how to put time in, and they understand how to play for one another.”