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Behind the Scenes with OKC’s 3 First Round Picks

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com

An extra cell phone sat by itself at Chet Holmgren’s table inside Barclays Center just a few steps away from the NBA Draft stage. 

When Holmgren’s name was called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at number two overall, the 7-foot freshman out of Gonzaga popped up out of his chair. He hugged his parents, Dave Holmgren and Sarah Harris, then strode up the stairs to don his new Thunder hat, hug Silver and bask in his moment. 

“A thousand emotions, all good ones,” said Holmgren, who hopes to bring the shot blocking prowess, versatility and shooting that he displayed in college and mesh it with the Thunder’s established core.

“I have so much gratitude, not only for my parents, but my coaches, friends and family along the way,” said Holmgren. “So for this to finally pay off like this, it’s amazing.”

After getting off the stage, he strolled down media row to hop on a variety of interviews, including one with former NBA star Dennis Scott, where Holmgren showed off his all-black draft outfit, complemented with a slick watch and a dazzling chain, and as he mentioned to anyone and everyone, the perfect hat to match – the one with OKC’s letters on it.

Behind the Scenes: Draft Night

It was nearly 30 minutes after being drafted that Holmgren realized that he was so excited to become a member of the Thunder that he forgot his phone, leaving it to vibrate relentlessly at his table. Finally, the phone started its journey back to Holmgren, buzzing with calls, including one from former high school teammate, fellow Gonzaga Bulldog and current Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs. Passing ESPN’s stage, the other 23 tables where draftees sat with their families and even Lu Dort, Holmgren’s new Thunder teammate who was in the stands as a spectator, the phone returned its rightful owner with a mission – to make two calls.

Eschewing the incoming alerts, Holmgren snagged his phone back with his 7-foot-6 wingspan and dialed Thunder General Manager Sam Presti and Head Coach Mark Daigneault, creating the official beginning to what all parties hope to be a fruitful developmental and competitive journey. After the calls concluded, Holmgren continued his circuit across various press conferences and social media stations, including a one-on-one interview with okcthunder.com and a selfie video for Thunder fans on @okcthunder social channels.

“Super rowdy fans that are die hard for their organization and I’m proud to represent them,” Holmgren said of the Oklahoma City faithful.

Minutes later, another new Thunder player was breezing through the back hallways of Barclays Center, with his flowing hair propping up his own Thunder hat as he hopped on the phone with Presti and Daigneault. It was Jalen Williams, a 6-foot-6 sharpshooting forward out of Santa Clara. With a pair of cross earrings suspended beside his cheekbones to frame his smiling face, Williams cordially answered every question from reporters about going 12th overall in the NBA Draft and joining Holmgren in Oklahoma City.

1-on-1 with Chet Holmgren

The two squared off against one another twice last season in the West Coast Conference, and while the unique Holmgren drew eyeballs everywhere he went as a freshman, Williams consistently honed his craft over three years, propelling into a lottery candidate as a junior. When his named was called by Silver he sat motionless for just a moment and let the emotion wash over him before he hugged his mother and father.

“It’s surreal. I don’t even remember the last time I cried, so to cry tears of joy – that’s a new experience for me in its own,” said Williams, whose intricate handshake routine with his brother Cody was nearly foiled by the swelling tears.

“I’m super excited,” Williams added. “(The Thunder) have a historic background. They’ve had a lot of good players come in and a lot of good teams. I’m excited to be a part of this upbringing they have going on.”

1-on-1 with Jalen Williams

The player selected just before Williams, Ousmane Dieng, was walking around the media circuit around the same time, but was wearing a New York Knicks hat. Rumors began to circulate online, however, that the Thunder jumped in and made a trade with the Knicks for the 19-year-old Dieng, a 6-10 French forward who played for the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL last season. Dieng was discreetly derailed from his obligations by NBA staff and dropped off in a green room, getting the chance to relax and cool off for a bit until the trade could be officially announced and he could swap into a Thunder hat.

While Dieng patiently waited in the secluded room on the opposite side of the event level from the post-draft party where players and families congratulated one another, a couple strode down the empty hallway right outside. It was Holmgren’s parents, Dave and Sarah, quietly walking hand in hand as they digested the reality that their son was really, truly the number two pick in the NBA Draft.

The Holmgren family’s night was coming to a close, as was Jalen Williams’, but just minutes before the Thunder selected a different Williams – Jaylin, out of Arkansas – with the 34th selection, Dieng was finally able to mimic his fellow rookie teammates and make his first pair of calls out to Oklahoma City. The trade had officially gone through, so Dieng was able to proudly position his Thunder hat atop his dangling hair and speak freely about starting his Thunder journey.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Dieng. “I’m just really proud of what I’m doing right now, but it’s just the beginning. We need to get to work.”

1-on-1 with Ousmane Dieng

At last, with every question answered and call made, Dieng could do what Holmgren did right from the start – put his phone down and enjoy the night.