Whoever said the best gifts almost always come in little packages wasn’t talking to Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford last Thursday night.
Clifford, who has ties to this area as a former assistant coach at St. Anselm College and recruiting players from this area for 15 years, recalled sitting in the Hornets “war room” on draft day feeling as if Christmas was descending upon him and the Hornets franchise.
And that potential gift was a 6-foot-10, 240-pound basketball player named Noah Vonleh, of Haverhill via Indiana University.
”We didn’t think we would have a chance at someone like Noah,” said Clifford. “Honestly, we thought he would be gone early, probably in the top five picks or soon after.”
The Hornets selected ninth overall — they acquired the pick in a trade with the Detroit Pistons to complete a 2012 trade in which they acquired Ben Gordon and a future first-round pick from the Pistons in exchange for Corey Maggette — to go with their own selection at 24th in the first round.
The Hornets flew in several players for workouts. Vonleh was not one of those players.
By the time the draft was four picks old, when Arizona forward Aaron Gordon was selected by the Orlando Magic, Clifford & Co. became very interested when they started re-adjusting their mock draft.
”We started to realize that Noah or (Julius) Randle may drop to us at No. 9,” said Clifford.
Randle, who a few weeks ago was expected to go in the top four, was chosen at seventh overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving only one more team, the Sacramento Kings, ahead of them at No. 8. But the fact that the Kings were on record saying they wanted a shooting guard, the Hornets held their collective breath.
The Kings chose 6-foot-6 shooting guard Nik Stauskas, out of Michigan, leaving a big Christmas gift for Clifford in the Hornets.