By RAUL DOMINGUEZ
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs chose Baylor forward Jeremy Sochan with the ninth overall pick, Ohio State guard Malaki Branham with the 20th selection and Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley at No. 25 in the NBA draft on Thursday night.
The trio of 19-year-olds all spent one season in college before heading to the pros.
A 6-foot-9 forward, Sochan averaged 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds, and provides size and defense in the frontcourt for the undersized Spurs. Sochan became the youngest player ever on the Polish national team when he played in a EuroBasket 2022 qualifier.
“I feel like I’ll be able to bring it every day on the defensive side,” Sochan said. “On the ball, off the ball, switching. I feel like I’m also a good communicator, so I feel like I’ll be able to do that straight when.”
Branham averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and two assists per game in his only season with the Buckeyes. A 6-5 guard, he was named the Big Ten freshman of the year.
“Shooting the ball and putting the ball in the basket (is how he can help the Spurs),” Branham said. “I’m a three-level scorer.”
Also a 6-5 guard, Wesley averaged 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game for the Fighting Irish.
Sochan, Branham and Wesley join a franchise rebuilding after being the league’s winningest team over two decades. San Antonio qualified for a league record 22 straight postseasons beginning in 1998. The Spurs won five NBA championships over that span with Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili starring under coach Gregg Popovich.
“Obviously this night is about those picks, but all of our young guys being in the gym working, pushing each other, and growing together,” Spurs general manager Brian Wright said.
After missing the postseason the past two seasons, Popovich and the Spurs are attempting to reinvigorate their franchise behind All-Star Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, 19-year-old Josh Primo and now Sochan, Branham and Wesley.
“I watched a little bit of Josh Primo this year,” Wesley said. “They developed him a lot at a young age. I feel like the San Antonio Spurs love to develop and I love to get better and learn from others so I can get better and learn from others so I can get better.”
Branham and Wesley competed against each other in a pre-draft workout for the Spurs.
“Both were mad after 3-on-3 games when they were not on the same team,” Wright said. “It was something that we saw and identified. Again, going back to the things that are non-skill specific, the intangibles, the things that are important to team building. Not only did we hear it when we called around and asked about them, but we saw it firsthand in this building when they came in for their work out.”
Sochan was San Antonio’s sixth lottery selection since it began in 1985, the fewest in the league ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers (seven) and Houston (10).
“I think it’s really exciting,” Sochan said. “From what I’ve heard, they all really want to work hard. I feel like I can fit really well. I’m going to be a sponge. There’s a lot of history with the Spurs and I just want to win.”
It was the first time the Spurs had three first-round picks in the same draft in the franchise’s 50-year history in San Antonio.
San Antonio selected Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler with the 38th pick but traded him to Memphis for a future second-round pick and cash.
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