When history looks back on the 2020 NBA draft there will be much to distinguish from the norm, most notably dealing with a pandemic. One could surely consider it the Minnesota draft as well.
And it isn’t just the fact that the Timberwolves had the No. 1 pick.
No more than two Minnesotans had ever been picked in the same modern day draft. Most recently, Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones and Cooper’s Rashad Vaughn were selected together in the first round in 2015.
The state made history when four former Minnesota high school players were chosen Wednesday.
Former Hopkins star Zeke Nnaji, who had no high major Division I offers as a junior in high school, was the first Minnesota native drafted, taken as the No. 22 pick by the Denver Nuggets.
“It feels great,” said Nnaji, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year at Arizona, “because I’ve been working to get to the NBA for so long. Now it’s just the beginning. It doesn’t matter where you’re drafted. Now it matters how much work you put in.”
Nnaji was the only Minnesotan taken in the first round, but Stanford guard Tyrell Terry, formerly of DeLaSalle, was selected to start the second round at No. 31 overall by the Dallas Mavericks.
Former Gophers and Cretin-Derham Hall center Daniel Oturu became the program’s first draft pick since Kris Humphries in 2004. The 6-10, third-team All-America player went No. 33 overall to the Wolves, who were picking for New York. Oturu wound up with the Los Angeles Clippers after another trade — joining his former another Minnesotan in ex-Gophers teammate Amir Coffey.
And Tre Jones joined his brother, Tyus, in the NBA after following his path to the league as a star point guard for Apple Valley and Duke. Tre went No. 41 overall to the San Antonio Spurs.
“This is just a byproduct of Minnesota high school basketball improving rapidly,” ESPN college basketball and NBA draft analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “I’m not really surprised.”
Terry was projected as the highest rated draft prospect of the bunch entering the night.
Fraschilla said he loved Terry’s three-point shooting and playmaking, but he was particularly enamored of the 6-11 Nnaji’s growth in the last year.
“It’s always nice to be compared to Steph Curry,” Fraschilla said of Terry. “I think Zeke’s got the raw upside potential to be an NBA starter and be a really good player.”
A year after he helped the Gophers reach the NCAA tournament as a freshman starter, Oturu blossomed into one of the Big Ten’s elite players, averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks a game.
“It just shows you the talent pool in Minnesota is at a high level,” Oturu said. “People need to start waking up.”
Jones, who was named ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year for the Blue Devils, didn’t get a chance to win a national title like his brother. The NCAA tournament was canceled last season because of the coronavirus. But he was grateful to follow the long list of recent Minnesotans to play for Duke, including Gary Trent Jr. and Matthew Hurt.
“It speaks of the talent that we definitely have in Minnesota,” Jones said. “You see for the past however many years now in college basketball you see all of the guys come out of Minnesota on winning teams and making the [NCAA] tournament. There are guys maybe not going to a big school, but they’re doing well.
“It speaks to how Minnesota basketball is doing and where we’re headed. Just seeing guys before us do these types of things really helps us.”
Jones and Oturu worked out together before the draft at the P3 Applied Sports Science facility in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“It was great getting the opportunity to work out with a guy like him,” Oturu said. “He’s a leader, he competes, and he makes everybody around him better. He makes me want to compete and get better.”