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Hornets take UConn's Bouknight with 11th pick in NBA Draft

Make room for another NBA Draft lottery pick banner on the practice facility wall at the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center.

James Bouknight became the 14th lottery selection in UConn program history, as Charlotte chose the 6-foot-5 guard at No. 11 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Bouknight, 20, is the highest UConn draft pick since 2012 when Andre Drummond went at No. 9.

He celebrated the life-changing moment about four miles from his hometown neighborhood in Brooklyn.

"This is definitely a legendary moment," Bouknight said during his press conference. "Like I said before, I'm going to keep on saying it, not many people can say they're from Brooklyn and they got drafted in Brooklyn, in the lottery at that. So, this moment for me is definitely a legendary one."

The Hornets will hold a press conference to introduce Bouknight on Friday in Charlotte.

During the pre-draft process, Charlotte was Bouknight's first stop on his workout tour, visiting there on July 2.

Projected to be drafted as high as No. 6, Bouknight waited longer than expected for his shining moment.

"I felt like I started to slip a little bit, but I feel like I kept my composure," Bouknight said. "I know that on draft night anything can happen, and I was just waiting to hear my name called and when it was called all the sadness went away and it was just a big joy."

Bouknight said he plans to use that motivation.

"Pick after pick, I was just sitting there in my head like, 'I've got a chip on my shoulder again.' ... So, it's nothing different," he said. "My whole life I've been slept on. Charlotte took this chance and I'm not going to let them down."

Hornet general manager Mitch Kupchak told the Charlotte Observer that he was "very surprised" that Bouknight was available at No. 11.

"We got a player we felt we rated much higher," Kupchak said.

Bouknight joins a young team that includes talented guard LaMelo Ball, the NBA Rookie of the Year.

The Hornets posted a 33-39 record last season.

"I have high expectations for myself," Bouknight said. "I never try to sell myself short. I think we're going to be one of the better young teams in the league. We're going to be a team that's fun to watch, super athletic on the wings. ... We're going to be box office."

Just hours before the draft, UConn announced that coach Dan Hurley and associate head coach Kimani Young would not be in attendance due to COVID-related issues among members of the coaching staff. They had planned to be in the Green Room with Bouknight and his family.

Multiple members of the coaching staff either tested positive or are exhibiting symptoms. All the coaches are fully vaccinated. They've been in close contact on the recruiting trail this week.

"It is extremely disappointing that Kimani and I can't be with James on such a momentous occasion in his life," Hurley said in a release. "He has done so much to help the UConn program and we couldn't have been more proud and excited to celebrate with James and his family. We have been in touch with them and they know that we are wishing James nothing but the greatest success as he takes the next step in his basketball career."

Bouknight left UConn after his sophomore season during which he averaged 18.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while leading the Huskies to their first NCAA bid in five years. He missed eight games due to an elbow injury.

He improved his stock with some impressive pre-draft workouts.

Pre-draft buzz pointed to Bouknight likely being selected in the top 14. Oklahoma City, at No. 6, was a potential landing spot for the All-Big East guard, according to several mock drafts. He worked out for the Thunder.

But the Thunder chose Josh Giddey.

Bouknight waited until Charlotte finally chose him. He's the 20th first round pick in school history.

Earlier this week, Bouknight spoke about the learning curve making the jump to the NBA after playing two years at UConn.

"I think I'm a player that can go into the league and right away make an impact," Bouknight said. "I'm not saying I'm going to be a killer from day one. There's definitely going to be the rookie curves and adjusting. I feel like the biggest adjustment is getting used to playing against NBA players, their strength and their speed, and having an 82 game season. ... Once I figure that out, I feel I can be a really good player in this league."

Hurley said earlier this week that he believes that Bouknight has all-star potential.

Other UConn lottery picks include: Andre Drummond (No.9) and Jeremy Lamb (No. 12), 2012; Kemba Walker (No. 9), 2011; Hasheem Thabeet (No. 2), 2009; Rudy Gay (No. 8), Hilton Armstrong (No. 12), 2006; Charlie Villanueva (No. 7), 2005; Emeka Okafor (No. 2), Ben Gordon (No. 3), 2004; Caron Butler (No. 10), 2002; Richard Hamilton (No. 7), 1999; Ray Allen (No. 5), 1996; Donyell Marshall (No. 4), 1994.

g.keefe@theday.com

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