It’s never fun to be the last player in the green room on Draft Day. As a hooper, you grow up dreaming of that one moment where you will stand up proudly on stage at Madison Square Garden and pound knuckles with David Stern for the first time. Being invited to sit as a green room attendee is fun, but it can sometimes turn into a schoolyard kickball game; waiting anxiously to hear your name called by the captain. And that’s just what happened to Nevada sophomore Luke Babbitt.
No, he didn’t take a meteoric Rashard Lewis like plunge, but the 6-9 smooth shooting forward was probably expecting to go higher than the 16th pick he was ultimately chosen with on June 24th. When Mr. Stern finally did call his name, it was to none other than the current NBA purgatory of Minnesota. Luckily for Luke though, Portland’s exiting GM Kevin Pritchard had one more Draft Day deal up his sleeve; trading Blazers guard Martell Webster for Babbitt and fellow Timberwolves’ forward Ryan Gomes almost instantaneously.
Babbitt will now join both a talent-laden and experienced playoff roster in Portland – making his later-than-expected draft position a blessing in disguise. With the departure of Webster and the Blazers current starting small forward, Nic Batum, mainly used as a stellar defensive presence, Babbitt has the opportunity to provide some scoring off the bench. And scoring is just what Babbitt has been brought into do.
As a freshman at Nevada, Luke averaged 17 points and 7.4 rebounds on his way to being named the WAC Freshman of the Year. During his second season in Reno, Babbitt upped the ante with 22 points and 9 boards a game – while also nabbing the WAC Player of the Year trophy and AP All-American Honorable Mention status. In only two years on campus, Babbitt asserted himself as one of the Wolfpack’s best players in school history. And for a team mostly tucked away from the majority of American eyeballs during basketball season, Nevada-Reno has actually amassed some impressive talent over the years. Beyond Babbitt and fellow Blazer rookie, Armon Johnson, Ramon Sessions, Nick Fazekas and JaVale McGee have all suited up for the Pack in recent years.
In Babbitt, Portland is not only getting a player they hope will turn into a big time scorer; they’re also getting a good kid. And as he prepares to head up to the Pacific Northwest and on to the NBA’s Summer League, it’s all smiles from his camp. Recently, Dime was fortunate to catch up with Luke for an update on how his life has been since being drafted…
Dime: First off, how does it feel to officially be a Portland Trail Blazer? What’s the whirlwind been like since Draft night?
Luke Babbitt: Obviously I just wanted to be picked in the Draft as high as possible, that was my goal, but you know going to Portland and being a Trail Blazer is the best I could have hoped for. It’s a great situation and they’re a great team already. I couldn’t be more excited.
Dime: Were you ever able to talk with Kevin Pritchard?
LB: No, I didn’t talk to him on Draft night. We did meet in Chicago though during the combine – which I think was like a month before the Draft.
Dime: PDX has a great fan base. What are your feelings going into this new situation?
LB: Yeah, that’s the first thing I noticed too was the fans. I think (the Blazers) said it’s been almost three straight years of sell-outs; their fans are unbelievable. You know the Trail Blazers are really the only thing as far as professional sports in town, so they’re unbelievably passionate about their team. And that’s the kind of team I want to play for.
Dime: Have you scoped around the Portland area at all?
LB: Not really. I was up there a few days ago just for the day. So I haven’t really seen the area too much, but everything I’ve heard about it has been nothing but great things. I’m going to be looking for a place here soon.
Dime: What was it like to finally put on your first NBA threads?
LB: You know it was crazy. It’s something I’ve dreamed about. I’m happy, but at the same time, I’m already setting my goals higher for next year. I’m not satisfied with just putting on a jersey, I want do whatever I can to help them win. I’m not just happy with getting a jersey or being on the team or getting drafted. I was happy, but at the same time I’m anxious to get going.
Dime: What are your expectations going into Summer League? Has Coach Nate McMillan told you what he’s looking for out of you and the other rookies?
LB: Yeah, I mean he said you know the main thing is he just wants us all to keep developing as players. And learning the NBA game is something that all of us rookies are going to have to do. I think he just wants us to go out there and obviously play hard, but keep improving.
Dime: You had two great years at Nevada. Why’d you decide now was the best time to leave college?
LB: I just want to be pro. I want to be in the NBA, I just want to be a pro really.
Dime: And being in the WAC, not a lot of people – including Portland fans – got to see you play much. What are you bringing to the Blazers that their fans might not know about you?
LB: I think immediately I’m going to be a tough player. I’m going to be a player that just hates losing. That’s what I’ll bring, is toughness. And also, I can spread the floor for [Brandon] Roy, and LaMarcus [Aldridge], and Andre [Miller], and all the guys to do their thing – and I can also make some plays too.
Dime: How do you now work to transition your game to the NBA?
LB: Yeah, you know the NBA game has a little more spacing than in the college game. In college, you see double teams or zone defenses and they just pack it in. In the NBA, there will be a little bit more spacing. You have to be obviously more explosive in the NBA. I think that’s why my game will translate well, because there will be a little bit more space for me to operate.
Dime: Have you gotten to know much of your fellow rookie class?
LB: Yeah I mean we all kind of know each other. I’m pretty close with Paul George – you know another WAC guy – we both pull for each other, you know to represent the WAC well. You know Armon, obviously him and me are really good friends, and then I just saw Elliot [Williams] the other day. So yeah, developing friendships.
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