INDEPENDENCE — Collin Sexton invoked a slightly altered version of Nike’s decades-old slogan, “Just do it,” minutes after being chosen by the Cavaliers with the No. 8 pick Thursday night in the NBA Draft.
And, befitting a player many considered the fastest in the draft, the excited Alabama point guard did it four times in less than 30 seconds.
Asked by an ESPN reporter to give his sales pitch to probable unrestricted free agent LeBron James, who has led the Cavs to four straight NBA Finals, Sexton said: “Man, LeBron, let’s do it. Let’s do it. I see you needed a few pieces, one or two pieces, this past season. Let’s do it. Let’s go back to the Finals. Let’s do it.”
With often underachieving veteran George Hill as the lone true point guard on their roster, the Cavs chose the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Sexton over Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Missouri small forward Michael Porter Jr.
The 6-6 Gilgeous-Alexander went No. 11 to Charlotte and was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, who had the 12th selection, while the 6-10 Porter, who had back surgery on two disks as a college freshman, fell all the way to Denver at No. 14 due mainly to medical concerns.
Another player the Cavs may have considered, Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, went No. 5 to Dallas but was quickly traded to Atlanta, along with a protected first-round pick in 2019, for No. 3 selection Luka Doncic.
“We’re incredibly excited about Collin Sexton,” said Cleveland general manager Koby Altman, whose team was swept by Golden State in the 2018 Finals, giving the Warriors their third title in four years. “The attitude, work ethic, his competitive fire, he’s a scorer, but I just love his energy.
“When I called him tonight, he wanted to run here,” added the GM, who said the team has every intention of keeping Sexton. “The excitement exploded out of the phone.”
Considered a solid two-way player, the 19-year-old Sexton scored an Alabama freshman-record 632 points while averaging 19.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
“It just shows all my hard work paid off,” said Sexton, who attended Game 4 of the Finals at Quicken Loans Arena and is expected to be back in town this afternoon to meet with the local media. “I just grinded, started at the bottom and came back up to the top. That was the biggest thing — just show people what I could do.”
A second-team Naismith High School All-American coming out of Pebblebrook High in Mableton, Ga., Sexton wore No. 2 at Alabama — the same number worn by Kyrie Irving with the Cavs — and led the Crimson Tide to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
Sexton scored in double figures 29 times in 33 games, including 16 games of at least 20 points and three of at least 30, with a career high of 40. That came in a loss to Minnesota when Alabama nearly won despite playing 3-on-5 at the end of the game.
Most impressively, he scored 79 points in the Crimson Tide’s three Southeastern Conference Tournament games, added 25 points in a win over Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament and then had 17 in a loss to eventual national champion Villanova.
“Of all the guys I’ve coached in the (NBA), played against in the league, he was arguably the fastest guy I’ve seen with and without the basketball,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “That’s a strong statement. But he’s got a lot of room to grow. He’s going to get better.”
With four-time league MVP James expected to opt out of a contract that would pay him $35.6 million next season, the Cavs were looking to add a player who would help them regardless of what the 33-year-old decides to do in free agency.
Sexton could fit that bill, but his arrival probably won’t be much of a factor when it comes to influencing James’ decision, though the three-time NBA champion’s camp reportedly likes the young point guard’s game.
“The talent level of Collin, I’m almost sure LeBron recognizes,” Altman said.
The GM went on to praise James’ performance in 2017-18, calling it “remarkable” and “historical.”
“We’re very fortunate to have him here,” Altman said. “What he gave to this team was remarkable. We don’t take that for granted.
“We continue to have good dialogue with his management team,” he added. “LeBron has more than earned the right to handle his contract situation the way he does.”
Sexton, who wore a maroon suit to draft night festivities that was similar to the Cavs’ wine team color, would love the opportunity to play with James.
“It means a whole lot just because he’s one of the best players to ever play basketball,” Sexton said of the possibility of teaming with James. “Just being able to come in and learn from him, it’ll be big for me and big for my growth.”
As former NBA point guard and head coach Johnson said, Sexton has elite speed and quickness and also can break down defenses and finish with either hand at the rim. Sexton also is considered to be very competitive and a willing defender, but needs to improve his perimeter jumper. He shot .447 from the field, .336 on 3-pointers (44-for-131) and .778 at the line at Alabama.
“Welcome to CLE and the @Cavs franchise, @CollinYoungBull,” team owner Dan Gilbert posted on Twitter. “Everybody here in the draft room is more than excited you will be bringing your talent, skills, and most importantly your passion & work ethic to The Land. Let’s go #youngbull.
“PS... Your sport coat is fire.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.
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