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Jamaicans make NBA Draft, traded to Pistons and Hornets

BY PAUL A REID
Observer writer
reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, November 20, 2020

Two Jamaicans, including former Jamaica College stand out Nick Richards, were selected on Wednesday's National Basketball Association's (NBA) Draft that was conducted virtually for the first time due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

New York-born Isaiah Stewart, who attended the University of Washington, was taken with the 16th pick in the first round while Stewart, who played at the University of Kentucky, was taken in the second round.

Both Stewart and Richards, both centres, were however traded within hours of being selected. Stewart was picked by the Portland Trailblazers, but then traded to the Detroit Pistons and Stewart, once a highly rated collegiate player, was selected by the New Orleans Pelicans before being sent to the Charlotte Hornets, the team owned by former superstar player Michael Jordan.

Stewart and Richards were the first Jamaicans to be picked in the NBA Draft since Jerome Jordan was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2010.

Another Jamaican, Samardo Samuels, was a free agent in 2010 when he was picked up by the Cleveland Cavaliers after he went undrafted after leaving the University of Louisville after just two years.

Stewart, who is a 6” 9', 250lbs centre, played one year at the University of Washington and is the son of Jamaican migrants. His father, Dela, being a former farm worker, leaving St Mary in the 1970s and his first job was cutting sugar cane in Florida.

The elder Stewart eventually left Florida and did other farm work jobs, according to reports in the US media before he settled in New Rochelle, New York, where he did mostly construction work.

Isaiah is said to have taken his work ethic from his father and is quoted on the NBA Draft website as saying: “You got a person like [my father] who works jackhammers and beats his body up, and all I have to do is go out on the court and play my hardest, play my heart out and make shots and give my team energy. That's not hard to do at all. I can do that forever. That's something I will never lose is my work ethic and my chip on my shoulder and my energy.”

The 6” 11' Richards' ability was spotted early when he participated in an All-Star camp and he left Jamaica in 2013 and played at St Mary's High School in New York before transferring to well known prep school, The Patrick School in Hillside, New Jersey a year later.

So highly rated was Richards that he was seen as a “one and done”, meaning he would spend just one year in college before making the move to the NBA, as per NBA rules.

This was not to be, however, as after starting Kentucky in 2017, bypassing other top basketball schools such as Syracuse and Arizona and played in the vaunted McDonald's All American Boys Game, the Jordan Brand Classic and for a World Select Team at the Nike Hoops Classic in 2017.

Richards spent three years at Kentucky and is quoted on the NBA Draft site as saying that “everybody has their own story”.

“Just because I go to a school that's known for one and done doesn't mean I have to be one and done. It took me time to develop over the past three years. I've had the best time of my life. Meeting incredible people, having the best coaching staff in the world training me to be the player I am right now and to be a better player for times to come,” he said.