The wait was longer than they expected, but Michigan State’s Adreian Payne and Gary Harris finally realized their NBA dreams.
Both were selected in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft — the first time since 2006 that two Spartans were picked in the first round, when Shannon Brown went 25th and Maurice Ager 28th.
Harris and Payne helped the Spartans win the Big Ten tournament title last season, topping Michigan in the championship game, before falling in the regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
Payne, a 6-foot-11 forward, went 15th to the Atlanta Hawks; it’s the highest draft spot for an MSU player since Jason Richardson in 2001. Harris went 19th to the Chicago Bulls, who traded him to the Denver Nuggets.
“We want to play with pace in space and Adreian is someone who can do both, from being able to run the court and compete on both ends along with being able to shoot the basketball. He fits into the way we want to play,” Hawks general manager Danny Ferry said via teleconference. “Along with that, Michigan State guys are guys that we like; they play with a high level of competitiveness and it’s a program that we really respect.
“He’s been raised the right way by (coach) Tom Izzo at Michigan State.”
Decked out in purple slacks and a blue jacket with a bowtie, Payne took the stage and greeted NBA commissioner Adam Silver in New York.
Payne was accompanied by Izzo and the mother of Lacey Holsworth — an 8-year-old friend of Payne’s, who lost her battle with leukemia this year — in the Green Room at Barclays Center. He said the suit colors were an homage to Lacey.
“It really has a meaning behind it: I wore this dedicated to Lacey Holsworth, and it’s the color of her cancer that she had, leukemia, and I wear a band every day,” Payne said. “As you can see, the band is the same color as the suit. So that’s why I wore it and that’s where I got my inspiration from.”
Harris, meanwhile, listed at 6-5 at MSU, but measured between 6-2 and 6-3 in the NBA draft combine. He was projected as a lottery pick (first 14 choices), but due to the depth of talent in the draft, he slipped to No. 19, where he was taken by the Bulls.
ESPN’s Bill Simmons called Harris “the steal of the draft” after he was selected. The Bulls later traded Harris and Jusuf Nurkic, the No. 16 pick, to the Nuggets for national player of the year Doug McDermott, who was taken 11th.
Harris tweeted: “DENVER!!!” after his selection.
DENVER!!!— Gary Harris (@thats_G_) June 27, 2014
Harris was relieved after ending his wait in the Green Room and having to wait until the trade details were finalized.
“It’s a lot better. To know where I’m finally going is definitely a relief,” Harris said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready to get there and work and definitely earn a position there. Nothing’s going to be given to me. I feel like it would be a great spot.”