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Behind the scenes at the draft

NEWARK, N.J. -- On June 28, at 7:36 p.m., David Stern ambled slowly onto the stage at the Prudential Center. He wore a blue shirt and red tie, approaching the microphone before a restless crowd. He was booed lustily. Then, after enduring his warm welcome, he said the words basketball fans have been expecting for months: "With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, the New Orleans Hornets select Anthony Davis."

The pick was met with little surprise. Davis has been the consensus top choice forever, a do-it-all power forward who tallied 186 blocks as a freshman. He's even been likened to a young Kevin Garnett, a comparison he embraced on Wednesday.

"He's a great player," said Davis. "I think I play just like him, without the trash talking."

His selection provides New Orleans with a potential franchise-altering big man, a centerpiece to build around for years to come. It also set in motion a draft with more top-to-bottom uncertainty than almost any in recent memory. Here's a diary from the first round ...

7:43 p.m. -- Stern announces the Bobcats have selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, officially giving Kentucky the top two picks in the 2012 draft. A little more than 25 minutes earlier, Kidd-Gilchrist, Davis and coach John Calipari sat at a table in the waiting area, sharing a moment before they became the first teammates to go No. 1 and No. 2. "We were just reminiscing," Calipari told me after the pick.

After being asked how Kidd-Gilchrist would respond to Charlotte's culture -- and rebuilding a franchise that just went through the losingest season in NBA history -- Calipari grinned. "He'll figure it out," he said. "He'll drag them farther than they ever should have gone. And he'll go crazy that they're losing. They'll rip him apart and that's the only way you get better. When you get used to losing, you accept losing. He'll never get used to losing."

7:47 p.m. -- Stern strolls back on stage -- to another cascade of boos -- to announce the Wizards' selection of Bradley Beal at No. 3. Conducting a radio interview in the opposite corner of the room, Kidd-Gilchrist stops talking, stands up and claps.

7:51 p.m. -- Heading toward the news conference room, I spot Knicks' three-point specialist Steve Novak. He's dressed in a sharp gray suit, but he immediately tries to divert my attention. "I went No. 32 during my draft," he said. "I was at home."

Novak also reveals he's been in touch with both Marquette prospects, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. "Hopefully at least one will end up in New York," he said.

Three-and-a-half hours later, the Knicks will select little-known Kostas Papanikolaou.

7:53 p.m. -- The Cavaliers pull the draft's first surprise with the No. 4 overall pick by taking Syracuse guard Dion Waiters, who was projected in the mid- to late-lottery. And Stern's declaration sets off a stark contrast of emotion. Waiters' entourage erupts in elation, with two friends barreling from the stands into the draftee area. Harrison Barnes -- who was widely expected to go at No. 4 -- sits in complete silence a few tables over, staring glossy-eyed at the stage.

Though Waiters only averaged 24.1 minutes in the 2011-12 season, scouts have said that he has a Dwayne Wade-type game. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder didn't back away from the comparison on Wednesday. "Just hearing things like that make me wanna be better than D-Wade," he said. "I just got to continue to work hard and everything else will take care of itself."

7:59 p.m. -- Thomas Robinson is selected at No. 5 by the Kings, promptly pushing the Kansas big man to tears. And understandably so. Robinson was forced to deal with the death of his mother and two grandparents during a month's span last January, and he used basketball as an outlet to overcome the tragedies.

The most touching moment of the draft occurred just seven minutes later. After shaking Stern's hand and conducting a radio interview, Robinson spotted the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, sitting in the stands next to a hallway tunnel. He collapsed into their arms and the three shared an extended hug.

I asked Markieff what he said during their exchange. "I just told him that we did it," Morris said. "Basically it's like watching my little brother grow up."

8:05 p.m. -- Stern walks back onto the stage to another outpouring of boos. He announces the Blazers have taken point guard Damian Lillard, the Weber State product who averaged 24.5 points during his prolific junior season.

During his post-pick press conference, Lillard -- perhaps more than any other player to this point -- is totally unfazed by the moment. "Coming from where I come from, it just shows that I've won people over," he said. "I've always been in the underdog. In high school. In college. To finally see that my body of work has paid off, it's just a good feeling."

8:08 p.m. -- I run into Calipari again in the hallway, and I quickly ask, "What does it mean for Kentucky to have Davis go No. 1 and Kidd-Gilchrist go No. 2?"

His response: "Great for them, nice for us." Understatement of the year.

8:11 p.m. -- No longer staring blankly into the distance, Harrison Barnes is selected by the Warriors at No. 7. His mood changes immediately, and he struts onto the stage to shake David Stern's hand.

Walking through the tunnel to fulfill his media duties, Barnes is handed a sheet of paper listing Golden State's lineup and jersey numbers. He smiles. "Number 40 is open! Perfect."

8:16 p.m. -- The Raptors select Washington's Terrence Ross at No. 8. In a down year for outrageous draft outfits, Ross -- with a shiny green bow tie and RGIII-like striped blue socks -- made the biggest statement. "Once I heard no one was doing it, I was all in," he told me before the draft.

A tremendously athletic sharpshooter, Ross also mentions his excitement to learn under the tutelage of DeMar DeRozan. "I think that playing with DeMar, he's gonna help me a lot," he said. "He's been in the league for a couple years now. All his knowledge, I know I'll soak that up. He'll just make me a better ballplayer."

Meanwhile, Lorenzo Romar, Ross' coach with the Huskies, relaxes in the seating area. He explains to me his pre-draft advice to Ross. "Just go out and have a killer's mentality," he said. "During those workouts, you're trying to get a job. Don't take it easy."

8:22 p.m. -- The first true high-risk, high-reward pick comes off the board. Andre Drummond, the player who GMs were scared to draft and terrified to pass on, falls to the Pistons at No. 9. He'll look to build on his pedestrian totals (10.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) during his lone year at UConn, and more importantly, to shed his reputation as a chronic underperformer.

"With the help of the organization, all that talk about my motor and me not being able to play hard is gonna be put to rest immediately," he said. "All my teammates, all my brothers now, will push me."

This much is telling: During the team workouts, even fellow top prospects were wowed by his potential. "A freak of nature, that's what he is," Thomas Robinson said Wednesday. "If you wanna watch somebody catch lobs all day, he's the person to do it."

8:28 p.m. -- With their second selection of the 2012 draft, the Hornets select Duke guard Austin Rivers. Rivers pops up from his seat in the waiting area in celebration, and Doc, stationed beside him, palms the top of his head as he rejoices.

A few minutes later in the press room, Rivers reflects on growing up in an NBA family. "My whole life has almost been a tease," he said. "I've been there firsthand but I've never actually been a player. I've seen what games are like, big games are like. Now I'm here."

Rivers was criticized for being too cocky earlier in the draft process, a turnoff for several lottery teams. On Wednesday, he dismissed such negativity.

"I don't see why a GM would want a player that doesn't have confidence. I don't get it. All of the good players have confidence. It's just do you have a healthy ego and confidence? That's what I have. I would never be cocky or arrogant and hurt the team. I never have and I never will be."

8:31 p.m. -- Calipari -- the true star of the draft -- is circled by a swarm of reporters. He uses the opportunity to further tout Kentucky's recruiting.

"I don't know what else you can add to our recruiting," he said. "How do you beat us on a kid? What happened? We've got a national title and kids that stay out of trouble. Every starter that we've had since I've been the coach at Kentucky has been drafted. How do you beat us on a kid?"

8:35 p.m. -- Illinois center Meyers Leonard is scooped up by the Blazers at No. 11. He seems at ease -- and explained to me why before the draft.

"It finally hit me," Leonard said. "Last night when I was lying in bed. It hit me."

8:42 p.m. -- Slender UConn guard Jeremy Lamb is picked by the Rockets at No. 12. He is buoyant after the announcement, and throws his arm around his female escort's shoulder as he's ushered into the interview room.

Sometimes questioned for his sleepy demeanor, Lamb defends his toughness to the press. "People try to doubt my heart, doubt my competitiveness," he said. "Working out on a bad ankle, I was able to show my competitiveness."

8:53 p.m. -- A few minutes after Kendall Marshall -- not in attendance -- is selected by the Suns, UNC teammate John Henson is taken by the Bucks. Henson glances over at fellow Tar Heel Tyler Zeller, still waiting for his name to be called, and trots onto the stage to shake the commissioner's hand.

A few spots lower than projected, Henson explains the nature of his fall. "I wasn't surprised," he said. "Detroit had told me that if Drummond dropped it was gonna take him."

During the wait before his press conference, I ask Henson about Zeller, the last remaining green room invitee yet to be drafted. Henson nods and offers his consolation. "Just stay strong," he said. "I thought he would've been gone by now."

8:58 p.m. -- The 76ers take Moe Harkless at No. 15. Stern is booed. Zeller chews gum and gazes into the distance.

9:04 p.m. -- The Magic take Royce White at No. 16. Stern is booed. Zeller chews gum and gazes into the distance.

9:11 p.m. -- Zeller's slide finally ends, with the Mavericks taking him at No. 17. But his drama is far from over. It soon becomes evident Zeller is being traded, with Dallas shipping him to the Cavaliers for picks No. 24 (Jared Cunningham), No. 33 (Bernard James) and No. 34 (Jae Crowder). Zeller is then forced to wait more than an hour before giving his interviews.

Still, upon saddling up to the microphone, Zeller manages to express enthusiasm. "I'm very excited to go to Cleveland," he said. "I think it's a great opportunity to play."

9:27 p.m. -- After Terrence Jones and Andrew Nicholson come off the board, the Nuggets select the first international player, Evan Fournier, at No. 20. A preteen near me, who's clearly never heard of Fournier, glances at his dad in disbelief. He shifts his eyes to the Jumbotron and then boos for longer than 10 seconds.

9:34 p.m. -- The Celtics take Jared Sullinger, also not in attendance. The crowd explodes. Somewhere in Columbus, Ohio, a former projected top-five pick swears to make every team that passed on him pay.

10:16 p.m. -- Things are drastically slowing down at this point. None of the recent draft picks -- Fab Melo, John Jenkins, Jared Cunningham, Tony Wroten Jr., Miles Plumlee, Arnett Moultrie -- are in attendance. Most of the media and fans are engaged in one of two options: Heading to the media work room or booing ESPN's Chris Broussard for eating a slice of pizza during a commercial break.

It's a toss up.

10:24 p.m. -- The final major domino of the first round falls. Perry Jones III, Baylor's tantalizing but ultra-risky big man, slips to the Thunder at No. 28. The Prudential Center simultaneously screams and falls silent. Around the rest of the league, it feels as if the same thing is universally happening.

"He may be the most talented player in the draft," a scout told me in April. "He's just not consistent. You're concerned about his motor, but not his abilities."

Jones dons an OKC cap and settles in for his press conference. He touches on Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and his take on the 2012 NBA Finals. Then Jones utters the words that, if fully realized, could spell doom for the rest of the league.

"I'll definitely use this as motivation," he said.

10:32 p.m. -- The Warriors take Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli with last pick of round one. Stern, once again, is booed.

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