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UK's Sheppard third pick, Dillingham goes eighth in NBA Draft

Reed Sheppard walks the red carpet before the NBA basketball draft, Wednesday, June 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)
Julia Nikhinson/AP
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AP
Reed Sheppard walks the red carpet before the NBA basketball draft, Wednesday, June 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)



The Houston Rockets selected Reed Sheppard with the third overall pick in the NBA draft, adding a elite long-range shooter to their young team. A few picks later the San Antonio Spurs selected Robert Dillingham in the first round then traded him to Minnesota.

“We ended up with Reed as the best player in the draft by quite a bit, the best prospect we thought… and kind of the only guy we were really focused on,” general manager Rafael Stone said. “So if he had not gotten to us we would have probably traded down or out of the draft. When we had the opportunity to pick him, we jumped on it.”

The guard, who spent one season at Kentucky, was the first American taken in this year's draft after French players Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr were selected by Atlanta and Washington with the top two picks.

Sheppard said he'd dreamed of this moment since he was a little kid. His big night was made even more special by having his parents Jeff and Stacey Sheppard, who also both played at Kentucky, there with him. He turned 20 on Monday.

“It’s my mom’s birthday today,” he said. “So that’s an awesome thing to celebrate as well.”

Sheppard averaged 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals while appearing in 33 games for the Wildcats. He shot 52.1% from 3-point range and made 83.1% of his free throws. He was the only player in the nation last season to have at least 145 assists, 80 steals and make at least 75 3-pointers.

Sheppard became the second player in school history to have at least 80 steals in a season despite starting just five games. It’s the 17th consecutive year that Kentucky has had at least one player selected in the NBA draft.

“Our evaluation was that Reed has a very special skillset that gives him a chance to be special in the NBA,” Stone said.

At 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds, Sheppard is among the smallest players in this year's draft, but is also thought by many draft analysts to be the best shooter.

Sheppard is the latest high draft pick to join the rebuilding Rockets in recent years. They took Amen Thompson fourth last year after adding Jabari Smith Jr. with the third pick in 2022 and Jalen Green second in 2021.

Stone was asked how he thinks Sheppard will fit with his new team.

“He can really shoot and he can really pass, so players like that fit in every offense,” he said.

The Rockets missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season this year but made a significant jump in their first year under coach Ime Udoka after adding veterans Dillon Brooks and Fred VanVleet. Houston went 41-41 after winning just 17, 20 and 22 games in the previous three seasons.

“I’m super excited,” Sheppard said. “They have a really good thing going in Houston. Coach is really good. They have Jalen. They have a bunch of really young athletic guys and we’ll be able to play fast and it’s going to be fun.”

He is looking forward to playing with VanVleet, a fellow undersized guard who will be entering his ninth season in the NBA.

“The biggest thing is just going in and learning,” he said. “They have guys like Fred VanVleet that I’ll be able to learn from. Just going in with an open mind, ready to learn, ready to do whatever it takes to win and just compete.”

Stone believes VanVleet will help Sheppard, just as he aided many players on the roster in his first year in Houston last season.

“I think that’s an invaluable experience,” Stone said. “Fred was amazing for all of our players last year, even the veterans. Fred's probably the most professional and toughest NBA player I’ve ever been around in 20 years in this league. So I think it’s a blessing for Reed to come into this situation.”

Sheppard is UK’s first top-five selection since De’Aaron Fox went No. 5 to Sacramento in 2017. He is the highest pick overall since Karl-Anthony Towns was the top choice in 2015. The London, Kentucky, native is the top overall selection by a Kentucky player who is a native of the Commonwealth since Rex Chapman went No. 8 in 1988 to Charlotte.

He averaged 12.5 points per game and topped double-figure scoring in 21 games en route to winning National Freshman of the Year honors from the National Basketball Coaches Association and the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Rob Dillingham, right, dons a San Antonio Spurs hat after being selected by the Spurs during the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Wednesday, June 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)
Julia Nikhinson/AP
/
AP
Rob Dillingham, right, dons a San Antonio Spurs hat after being selected by the Spurs during the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Wednesday, June 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

The San Antonio Spurs entered the NBA draft with two picks in the first eight selections. They only decided to keep one of them. The Spurs gave last year’s No. 1 overall pick and NBA rookie of the year Victor Wembanyama a running mate by selecting guard Stephon Castle from Connecticut with the fourth overall pick, a pairing that will aid in San Antonio’s youth movement. The Spurs selected Rob Dillingham from Kentucky with the eighth overall pick but dealt the pick to Minnesota.

Dillingham averaged 15.2 points per game off the bench to become the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year. That mark was second on the team, trailing only Antonio Reeves. Dillingham's points per game off the bench were the most among all players in the SEC and the most by any true freshman off the bench this season.

The Hickory, North Carolina, native poured in a career-high 35 points against Tennessee on Feb. 3. It tied for the most points off the bench by any UK player in the John Calipari era. He was also just the third player to score 35 or more in the Rick Barnes' Tennessee era, joining Mason Jones and Damantas Sabonis as the others.

For the year, Dillingham scored in double figures in 27 games. Against UK's seven ranked opponents this season, Dillingham averaged 17.1 points per game and 3.9 assists. He also connected on 60.0% of his shots from 3-point range and averaged 2.6 made 3s per game in those contests.

Kentucky has had 140 players drafted 142 times in its illustrious history with 62 players selected in the opening round. The 62 opening-round selections are more than any other program in the country. Since the draft moved to two rounds in 1989, the Wildcats lead all schools with 48 first-round picks.

The second round of the 2024 NBA Draft will begin on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.