James a first-round pick

James a first-round pick

Damion James said that hearing his name called in Thursday night's NBA Draft was a dream come true. And it was a dream that nearly happened last year.

But James, who tested the waters following a strong junior year, said he wanted to improve as a player to help find a better situation as a pro. He said that situation occurred Thursday night, when he was drafted with the No. 24 overall selection by the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks then traded his rights to New Jersey.

"It was great," James said. "I think I have a great opportunity to come in and play right away with New Jersey. They really think highly of me as a basketball player."

There weren't many teams that didn't think highly of James after a stellar Texas career that saw James finish as the all-time school and Big 12 Conference rebounding leader. To accomplish that feat, he grabbed 1,318 boards (9.3 per game) over his four-year career. He also holds the Big 12 mark and ranks second in school history with 55 career double-doubles. James also showed he could put the ball in the basket, finishing seventh in Big 12 history in career scoring. As a senior, James led the Longhorns in scoring (18 points per game), rebounding (10.3 rebounds per game), steals (57 total) and minutes played (30.3 minutes per game).

Those numbers, along with strong workouts that saw James run well and jump well — he posted a 37-inch vertical — propelled James into the draft's top 10 small forwards and a spot in the first round. James said he watched the draft at home with his mom, dad and grandparents.

"My whole family was there," James said. "They've seen me work so hard."

What followed was an unsurprising result — James said he knew he would be picked in the first round — followed by a trade he said he didn't see coming.

"I didn't know anything about it," James said. "I think it's great. I think New Jersey is up-and-coming."

James said he didn't know which team would call his name.

"I don't listen to the he-said, she-said," James said. "I just wanted to watch my name being called.

"You can't be picky," James said. "Just to play in the NBA, it's great."

James said he didn't know much about New Jersey's roster, but said he looked forward to learning more about his new team while working hard to forge a place on the roster. He said he improved his ball handling and shooting as a senior, while also working on his demeanor and the way he carried himself.

"I'm going to bring hard work (to New Jersey)," James said. "I'm going to get a lot of offensive rebounds and bring everything that I've done in college."

James said he knew for a long time that he had a chance to be an NBA player.

"My coaches told me that if I stayed positive and out of harm's way, I had a chance," James said. "Everybody was really supportive."

The talk heading into Thursday night's draft was that the Longhorns would likely have two first round draft picks for the just the second time in school history, which Texas accomplished when James was taken just five picks after Avery Bradley, who went 19th to Boston.

But Texas nearly had three, with center Dexter Pittman selected by Miami with the No. 32 overall pick, or the second pick in the second round. Most mock drafts had Pittman either going undrafted or finding a spot late in the second round.

"I think (they'll bring) just hard work and dedication," James said. "They have a lot of upside, and they're great teammates."

James said he was going to continue to work hard in the classroom to make the final push toward his Texas degree. He sits just five classes short, and said graduating from college was a goal he shared with his family. And he said he would continue to keep an eye on the current Longhorns, who he said would have a strong season.

"I think they'll be great," James said. "As long as they stay positive and work hard, they'll be great."

LaMarcus Aldridge was the highest pick in school history. He was taken No. 2 overall in the 2006 draft.

Thirty-eight Texas players have been taken in NBA Draft history, with 11 of those players meriting first-round picks. Raymond Downs was the first-ever Longhorn selected. He was picked by St. Louis with a sixth-round pick in 1957.

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