By Mary Cunningham
Sixers fans who have fixated on Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell as the team’s No. 3 overall pick in the June 25 draft may have a rude awakening.
There are some who believe that Russell is underrated and may wind up being chosen No. 1 by Minnesota or No. 2 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Russell owns the word “underrated” proudly, and he was asked the inevitable question players like Russell get asked this time of year.
He was asked by a pool of reporters at the NBA draft combine: “Are you the best player in this draft?”
Russell offered a bold “Yes.”
It created a little stir online. Doesn’t Russell know that Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are in this draft?
Russell’s been working out with Towns for the past several weeks — his prime competition, along with Okafor, for the No. 1 pick.
Towns is bigger, more athletic, and in many ways, just as skilled. Towns was recruited heavily by the top college program in the country, Kentucky. He was invited to the prestigious Nike Hoop Summit as a 16-year-old. He’s been prepping for this his whole life.
Russell didn’t even begin playing basketball until he was 12. Spent as much time practicing karate and softball as he did playing hoops. He seriously considered giving up basketball for football when he entered high school. He never cracked the Top 10 in ESPN’s high school rankings.
Russell led Montverde to back-to-back Dick’s Nationals Championships. But, despite the winning pedigree and being a native of Louisville, he never was offered a scholarship by John Calipari. He was only lightly recruited by Rick Pitino.
“I didn’t plan on it,” Russell said. “I mean, it was always a dream. But to suddenly have the dream happen so soon. It was kind of scary.”
Towns was ranked No. 3 on our Big Board to start the season. Russell didn’t make the initial cut in the Top 30 in July and didn’t crack the top 10 until December. In our latest Big Board 10.0, Towns is now the No. 1 prospect. Russell is at No. 3.
He remains undeterred. Unbent. Undefeated.