Last year’s rookie class reflects on draft night

Nick Gallo | Broadcast & Digital Editor |

It was too late. Aaron Wiggins, watching the 2021 NBA draft in his hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, felt the uncertainty and tension of the moment.

As NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum begins rattling off the election and the early ’50s hit, many prospects begin to wonder if their name will even be called. Each year, 60 of the world’s brightest young players are drafted by the NBA team, with dozens more signed on bilateral, free agent, and summer league contracts. Being drafted isn’t a guarantee of better NBA success than a player who wasn’t drafted, but there’s something surreal and special about hearing Tatum or NBA commissioner Adam Silver call your name when announcing a first-round pick.

Finally, on that late July night in 2021, Tatum stepped onto the podium at the Barclays Center and said: “Since 55th The Oklahoma City Thunder select Aaron Wiggins from the University of Maryland in the 2021 NBA Draft.

(David Doe | NBAE via Getty Images)

“So much emotions about that night,” Wiggins said. “One day I finally got a call from my agent saying that OKC is hiring me – lots of smiles, lots of tears with me and my family.”

Wiggins was one of four players selected by the Thunder in the 2021 draft and was subsequently signed to a two-way contract so he was free to be called back and forth to the Thunder’s G-League team, the Oklahoma City Blue. . Along with No. 6 Josh Giddy, Tre Mann at 18, and Jeremy Robinson-Earle at 32, Wiggins was part of an impressive class of rookies who combined to make 151 NBA starts in 2021-22. The quartet has helped the organization move forward, taking another big step into a new future while retaining the attributes that Thunder has treasured over the past decade and a half.

“The core elements that we’ve always looked for are pretty consistent,” said Sam Presti, executive vice president and general manager of Thunder. “Each of these guys went their own way. There are some guys who were really locked up and there were other guys who caught us. Wiggins really caught us during the draft. He really impressed people with his first interview in Chicago.”

The impact of the four draft picks has been remarkable, including Wiggins being promoted to a permanent NBA contract, Mann averaging almost 16 points per game after the All-Star break, Robinson-Earle scoring nine games with three or more three-pointers. and Giddy, who won four consecutive Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards.

Less than a year after their recruiting night, when they reminisced about the experience, they were still in awe of the life-changing moment. They also gave some advice to aspiring Thunder newcomers. The organization owns four of the top 34 picks in the 2022 NBA draft (Thursday, June 23), including the second, 12thththirtyth and 34th a general choice to use as the front office best sees fit.

At the 2021 draft, Giddy was in the green room at Barclays Center and said that within minutes of hearing his name, he was euphoric and unable to remember anything until he shook Silver’s hand.

“One of the best nights of my life. When Adam Silver calls your name, your life changes,” Giddy said. “If I could survive any day in my life, I think that would be the project.”

A dozen choices later, Silver called Mann’s name, but he wasn’t around to shake his hand. However, he was nearby, in New York with his family. After playing pool with his father and some time to celebrate, Mann did what seemed most natural to him – he went to the gym. With the ball in hand, Mann made some late-night shots as he practiced what he later preached to the Thunder’s upcoming 2022 draft class:

“For those coming in, I would say get ready to go,” Mann said. “Take advantage of this. Have fun.”

For the Thunder’s two second-round picks, Robinson-Earle and Wiggins, the upcoming draft is a reminder of how whirlwind an NBA rookie year can be. Playing to an 82-game schedule for the first time, traveling through new arenas and battling unique opponents as you try to develop as an individual and as a team, time will fly by.

“I’ve heard a lot of veterans and guys who are already retired saying this will pass quickly, don’t take it for granted,” Wiggins said. “You have to really get close every day and attack every day.”

(Zach Beaker | OKC Thunder)

“It’s crazy how fast the season has gone by,” Robinson-Earle said. “It was just nice to have the opportunity when it’s a young team that has a lot of opportunity and experience and just the opportunity to take advantage of that and grow.”

Thankfully, all four members of the 2021 Thunder draft class made the most of their chances, gained invaluable experience, and fully immersed themselves in the program physically and mentally. Now they all have solid ground under their feet and will be ready to welcome the 2022 draft picks with open arms.

“We’ve got a really good rookie class from last season to help guys who were literally in their shoes last year,” Robinson-Earle said.

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