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Brooklyn Nets introduce trio of 2023 draft picks at HSS Training Center

Sean Marks and Jacque Vaughn were on hand to introduce Brooklyn’s trio of newest Nets

It was all smiles at HSS Training Center on Friday afternoon, as the Brooklyn Nets introduced their trio of 2023 draft picks to the media. Noah Clowney, Dariq Whitehead, and Jalen Wilson constituted Brooklyn’s first draft class since 2021, and as you might expect, Sean Marks and Jacque Vaughn had nothing but praise for their newest Nets.

Specifically, praise for who they are as people, and what they may add to the locker room and community. Vaughn stated that Brooklyn’s focus during the draft was “keeping people in the building who want to be here, who fit being here in our building, who fit our culture.”

And while there are not a ton of similarities on the court between the three players, Marks was quick to point out a common thread in Brooklyn’s draft picks: high character.
“It’s always a little unique because they’re different individuals, but how mature each one of these guys are. Jacque mentioned before he’s got a couple boys at home that are similar ages and so do I, and I’d be extremely proud if these guys were my kids.”

It would appear the front office and coaching staff is, once again, aligned on the big C-word that has defined Sean Marks’ tenure as Brooklyn’s General Manger: culture.

I spoke about Clowney and Whitehead with the Post’s Dexter Henry on Sunday:

As for, you know, the players themselves, each has had a unique route to the borough. Brooklyn’s two first round picks are each just 18 years old, born in two-thousand-and-freaking-four. In fact, Whitehead, a Duke product, is the youngest player the Nets have ever drafted, beating out Derrick Favors by two weeks.

Whitehead, officially 2023’s #22 pick, was ESPN’s #2 high school prospect upon graduating Montverde Academy just one year ago. But his lone season as a Blue Devil was plagued by right foot injuries, to the point where he needed a second surgery after the season ended. That will keep him out of Las Vegas Summer League. The surgery was performed by none other than Nets team physician Dr. Martin O’Malley, perhaps playing into Brooklyn’s comfort level selecting him.

Likely, at least in part, due to the foot injury, Whitehead did not flash the elite athleticism and pop he showed in high school, and was relegated to more of spot-up shooting role on a Duke team with championship ambitions.

“I feel like people definitely, from last year, they tend to think that I’m not athletic, and that was due to me pretty much playing on one leg,” said Whitehead. “But I feel like I can definitely show the athletic part and then, really my playmaking. I feel like once I, you know, get to 100%, I can go back to showing how well I can really be a great on-ball playmaker, pretty much.”

The Newark native also stated that even though dealing with his injury is “very difficult” because “you want to get out there with new teammates, you wanna show what you can do,” he’s “feeling great right now,” and is confident he’ll soon be back to full health.

Dr. O’Malley said this about Whitehead’s surgery on June 7. “He will begin his rehab process in two weeks and should be ready for full participation at the start of NBA training camp.”

The general manager is confident as well although he wasn’t specific as O’Malley. “I think we’ll take it slow, and be very systematic with how we bring him back. He [will be] 19, so let’s be very measured in the process. I have the utmost faith in our doctors...There’s absolutely no rush to do this. We’lll work hand in hand with Dariq. He’ll be the one guiding us as well.”

While Noah Clowney is also an 18-year-old first-round pick, his college career went a little differently. He was certainly a touted high school recruit, even making ESPN’s top 100 list (at 99) but was not quite at Whitehead’s level, and was slotted into an ancillary role on an Alabama team that heavily featured #2 pick Brandon Miller.

Clowney is excited to show what he can do at the NBA level: “I think I got a lot more to my game than what people have seen, but obviously I was playing with Brandon [Miller] and we didn’t need me to be another star on that team. So I played my role to help us win.”

Part of the Clowney’s appeal is the potential to be the ever-sought-after stretch big the modern NBA loves. Standing 6’10” tall with a 7’2” wingspan, the gregarious South Carolinian also fired up 3.3 3-pointers a game in his lone season at Alabama. However, he converted on just 28.3% of those attempts, despite a relatively smooth-looking stroke.

Clowney says he wasn’t always a long-range threat, but, “when they tried to change my jump shot in high school, I knew I could change my form and I could become a good shooter. As far as volume – s**t – coach told me let it fly, so, let it fly.”

Marks, not quite in those words, agrees with the sentiment. In his post-draft interview late on Thursday night, he said, “You’re talking Noah, he doesn’t shy away from shooting it. That’s what we want. Confidence is something that some people are born with, some people it grows, and you hope a guy like Noah, his confidence just continues to grow and grow and grow. But he comes in with some confidence, which is great.”

So too does Jalen Wilson, confident in his abilities albeit in a more reserved manner. Wilson, like his new head coach, spent four years at the University of Kansas working on his game. The 6’8’ swingman went from playing garbage time minutes in his freshman year to averaging 11 points a game on a title-winning team, to becoming the lead option in his final season and unanimously winning Big 12 Player of the Year. He was also a consensus First Team All-American.

The 22-year-old, drafted at #51 by the Nets, has seen some things. And he wants to push back on the idea that upside is directly correlated with age: “I just think my time at school gave me a lot of different experiences, taught me a lot of different things. I was able to do a lot of different roles and I feel like I just use that to my advantage,” said Wilson, later adding that “I just look at this opportunity to come in and be able to do whatever I’m asked to do.”

In other words, despite his high usage rate in his final season at Kansas, Wilson will have no problem getting in where he fits in. At least, that’s how Marks saw it in his comments on Thursday night, just after his squad selected the ex-Jayhawk: “Jalen: He’s a champion. He’s won before, so he’s seen what it takes. Being coached really hard, being coached well. So to bring him into a program like this, again, you know, we’re all gonna be better because these three young men are a part of us.”

Such was the message from Sean Marks, both immediately following the draft and at the rookies’ introductory presser on Friday afternoon. He and Vaughn, and the rest of the Nets’ organization, are certainly excited about what each draft pick can do on the court, repeatedly citing versatility and athleticism for all three prospects, but they’re equally as excited to welcome Clowney, Whitehead, and Wilson as people.

And for the record, Clowney will wear No. 21, Wilson 22 and Whitehead, a graduate of the Team Durant Youth Basketball Organization, will wear 7, KD’s old number.

In the coming week, I’ll have in-depth scouting reports on each selection, and how they may play into Brooklyn’s short- and long-term plans. For now, the Nets’ roster just got a little bigger, a lot younger and hopefully, better.