By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The hardest part of NBA draft night for Kevin Huerter was keeping a straight face.
He knew, moments before virtually anyone else did, that he was about to become a professional basketball player. Dozens of friends and family flanked him, all their eyes intently on the television screens as they waited for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to stand at his lectern in New York and give the word that they all came to hear.
But Huerter had gotten a tip through his agent moments before, after a call from New York to his draft party at a country club near his home in an Albany suburb, that his moment was near. So he sat back and waited to see — would it be San Antonio at No. 18 or Atlanta at No. 19? The answer arrived when the Spurs took Miami’s Lonnie Walker IV at No. 18, and with that, it was time to await the next sentence from the commissioner.
“The Atlanta Hawks select Kevin Huerter,” Silver said.
And there it was. The Moment.
There was yelling, there was jumping, there even were a few tears. Huerter hugged his mother, then his father, then his brother and then his sisters. The 19-year-old who left Maryland after two seasons had just become the No. 19 pick in the NBA draft, off to the Hawks as their second first-round selection of the evening after they wound up with Oklahoma’s Trae Young following a trade earlier.
Draft day for Huerter was remarkably normal, which was by design. He worked out, went back to his old school and talked to kids, took a dip in his parents’ backyard pool, then sprawled out on a couch to watch an Ace Ventura movie.
“This is who Kevin is,” said Tony Dzikas, Huerter’s coach at Shenendehowa High. “Laid-back, special kid, wants to share moments with the people who matter most to him. But on the floor, he knows exactly what to do and exactly how to do it. He’s special there too, just in a very different way. The Atlanta Hawks got a winner tonight.”
He could have gone to New York and been with other draftees, but Huerter instead decided to invite about 200 friends and relatives to share the moment with him. They had burgers, chicken and hot dogs, plowed through some desserts, some sipped drinks and others just showed up to say that they were there to see one of their own make it big.
Plenty of his former coaches were in attendance: Dzikas, along with Maryland’s Mark Turgeon and the Albany City Rocks’ Jim Hart from his AAU years. So were a slew of his former teammates, including a carload that drove up from Maryland earlier in the day just to be there for the big moment.
The Hawks’ initial assessment of Huerter suggests that he’ll be part of the rotation as a rookie.
“He’s a 6-foot-7 wing so he has good size,” Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said. “He has great ball skills, really good shooter, shot over 40 percent from 3 during his college career. Has ability to put the ball on the floor and get in the lane, so we’re excited about his playmaking ability.”
For a day that carried such significance, it started about as low-key as possible.
Thomas Huerter Sr., Kevin’s father, left for a workout around 7 a.m. About an hour later, Erin Huerter, Kevin’s mother, was folding his laundry in the kitchen. Upstairs, the soon-to-be-draftee was sound asleep in his bed until shortly before his 10 a.m. session at a nearby gym.
At lunchtime, when the whole family — both parents and all four kids — gathered for sandwiches with the Argentina-Croatia World Cup match playing in the background, not a word was said about the draft. It wasn’t a conscious choice, and the draft wasn’t a forbidden topic or anything. There were just other things to chat about, none of it amounting to much more than small talk.
On the biggest day of Kevin Huerter’s life to date, he was unfazed.
“Deciding between four shirts,” he said.
That was his biggest decision of the day.
He has handled the draft process in about as low-key a fashion as possible. On his last night before officially becoming an NBA player, Huerter helped his parents set up the backyard of their home for their draft after-party, then went inside and sprawled out on a couch for some apple pie around midnight while watching replays of Giancarlo Stanton’s game-ending home run for the New York Yankees.
No entourages coming over. No wild parties. No talk of what to buy first.
“That’s my personality,” he said. “I don’t get fazed by a lot of moments, even when it’s on the court.”