NEW YORK (AP) — Ben Simmons climbed on stage to the sound of cheers from a Philly-filled crowd hoping he could turn around the 76ers.
Not long after the same crowd was largely quiet as the NBA draft filled with unfamiliar names.
The 76ers selected Simmons with the No. 1 pick Thursday night in the draft that opened with three straight freshmen.
Philadelphia grabbed the versatile 6-foot-10 forward from Australia who averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists to become the only player in Southeastern Conference history to finish in the top five in all three categories.
He comes with some questions – he made only one 3-pointer – but too much potential for the 76ers to pass up with their first No. 1 pick since taking Allen Iverson 20 years ago.
“It feels amazing, honestly,” Simmons said. “I can’t even – my legs were shaking when I was on stage.”
Philadelphia fans who made the trip to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center loudly cheered the selection in hopes that Simmons can help them move forward after three straight dismal seasons, including a 10-72 finish in 2015-16 that was just a game better than the worst ever in the 82-game schedule.
The last No. 1 pick from LSU was Shaquille O’Neal – who will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame along with Iverson in September.
The Los Angeles Lakers, picking second for the second consecutive year, took Duke’s Brandon Ingram, who averaged 17.3 points as the ACC freshman of the year. He becomes the latest young player on a team that will begin life without the retired Kobe Bryant next season.
“I’m just going to be myself,” Ingram said. “Whatever I can do to impact the game, whatever the coach needs me to do, I’m going to do it.”
The Boston Celtics then began a busy night by picking California forward Jaylen Brown. Boston has eight picks in the two-round draft, starting with one it acquired from Brooklyn in 2013 in the deal that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets.
Croatian Dragan Bender ended the run of freshmen when the Phoenix Suns selected the 7-1 forward who has been playing professionally for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Three more big men with international ties were taken consecutively later in the lottery. Toronto took Utah’s Jakob Poeltl from Austria, Milwaukee rounded out the top 10 with Thon Maker, originally from South Sudan, and Orlando followed with Domantas Sabonis. He was born in Portland while his Hall of Fame father, Arvydas, played for the Trail Blazers, but played his high school ball in Spain before coming back to the U.S. to go to Gonzaga.
The Minnesota Timberwolves used the No. 5 pick on Providence junior Kris Dunn, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East who should fit nicely for new coach Tom Thibodeau.
A couple of the draft’s best shooters went next, with New Orleans grabbing All-American Buddy Hield from Oklahoma, and Denver picking Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray at No. 7.
Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, the Associated Press Player of the Year, went 14th to Chicago to close the lottery. But that was a rare well-known name to the crowd at the time, as Georgios Papagiannis went 13th to Phoenix – climbing out a crowd near the concourse level surrounded by Greek flags – with Spain’s Juan Hernangomez going 15th to Denver and Boston selecting Guerschon Yabusele of France at No. 16.
Even they seemed surprised to hear their names called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
“Nobody was expecting,” Yabusele said. “I see (the cameras) coming close to me, see my name. So I was really surprised to be in here, but I was so happy.”