Jabari Smith happy to be where he’s wanted in Houston

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The Houston Rockets were in a win-win situation, waiting to select their pick in the 2022 NBA draft. After Duke forward Paolo Banchero was shockingly chosen with the No. 1 overall pick by the Orlando Magic, the Oklahoma City Thunder took Gonzaga forward Chet Holmgren at No. 2 in the first round, putting the Rockets on the clock.

From there, Houston selected forward Jabari Smith from Auburn University with the third pick. Most mock drafts had Smith going number one overall to the Magic, but when he didn’t hear his name called, it added more fuel to the fire that burns inside of the 19-year-old.

“Definitely added a chip, but God makes no mistakes, so I’m happy to be here,” Smith told reporters on Thursday night. “I’m happy to be where I’m wanted. I’m happy to get to Houston and just show them… give them what they picked. Just happy to be here.”

The 6-10 forward dominated the SEC, leading the Tigers in scoring at 16.9 points a game and hitting 42% of his attempted 3-pointers on the season. Smith was named National Freshman of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA).

He joined former University of Texas and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant as the only freshman as the only freshmen to have averaged at least 16.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg and shoot 40.0% or better from beyond the three-point line.

In Houston, he will join a potent and explosive lineup including Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and second-year center Alperen Sengun.

“Most thing I’m looking forward to is just growing with them over these next few years,” said Smith, a second-team NCAA All- American. “Growing with them, trying to win games with them, growing with them. We’re all young, all new to the NBA lifestyle, so just learning from them. They’re older than me, so just getting in there and ultimately building that relationship with them so it can transfer to the court.”

The Georgia native knows that the Rockets are in a rebuilding process. Houston finished with the worst record in the NBA for the second year in a row. But he has his eyes on reaching the postseason in Houston, along with winning Rookie of the Year for the 2022-23 year.

“I want to make the playoffs,” Smith said during his interview on ESPN. “I want to win games. That is how I was raised. That is just who I am. I want to come in and win games. I know if I come in every day trying to win, everything else will take care of itself. I am looking forward to a big year.”

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