Two standout Auburn University basketball players were picked in the first round of Thursday night’s NBA draft.

Jabari Smith Jr. was taken by the Houston Texans with the number three pick in the draft. Auburn’s Walker Kessler was picked at number 22, where his rights were traded for by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

This was a historic night for Auburn basketball in that it was the first time that the university had two players taken in the NBA draft in the first round in the same draft year.

Most NBA sources believed that the Orlando Magic was going to draft Smith, but the Magic instead selected Duke’s Paolo Banchero. The Oklahoma City Thunder had been expected to take Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren with the number two pick and did just that. Smith then was selected by the Houston Rockets with the number three pick in the draft. Houston was so surprised that Smith had fallen to three that they had never even had Smith work out for them prior to the draft and he has never met their staff.

This was the first time since 2017 that all three of the first players taken in the draft were all freshmen “one and done” players.

Smith told ESPN’s NBA radio, “I am so happy to be where I was wanted.”

Smith said that the draft day snub would add to the chip on his shoulder. Smith said that he was eager to go to Houston to meet his teammates and the Houston staff and that it was time “to get to work.”

"I'm so excited for Jabari and his family,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “He's going to go to a really good young club with really good pieces. He will be an NBA All-Star. There's no doubt in my mind.”

Smith is a 19-year-old 6-foot-10-inch, 220-pound freshman who is a skilled shooter, including from behind the three-point line. Smith is the son of LSU standout and NBA player Jabari Smith Sr. He was a McDonald's All-American in his senior year at Sandy Creek High School. He averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists a game in his season at Auburn. He also shot 42% from beyond the three-point line.

Smith is the highest player taken in the history of Auburn University basketball. Chuck Person was the fourth pick overall in 1986, Charles Barkley was the fifth player taken overall in 1984, and Isaac Okoro was the fifth player taken in 2020.

Fellow Auburn University standout, sophomore Walker Kessler, was selected with the 22nd pick in the draft. A series of draft-day trades of players and picks resulted in Kessler’s rights being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Kessler told ESPN that he is very excited to be in Minnesota and that playing in the NBA has been a dream of his for years.

"I'm so happy for Walker and his family,” Pearl said. “Walker has had to carry the weight of a lot of people that have doubted him. He delivered in a huge way. I felt like Walker affected the game as much as any player in college basketball.”

The 7-foot-1-inch Kessler, age 20, averaged 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks this season for Auburn and was the NCAA Defensive Player of the Year. Kessler spent his freshman year at the University of North Carolina but transferred to Auburn for his sophomore season.

Pearl compared Smith to NBA superstar Kevin Durant and Kessler to the Boston Celtics Al Horford in comments to Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd.

The University of Alabama’s J.D. Davison was also taken in this year’s draft but in the second round. The 6-foot-2-inch, 19-year-old freshman point guard was selected with the 53rd pick in the draft by the 2022 Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics. Davison averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.9 turnovers this season for the Tide, earning All-SEC freshman team honors. Once considered a first rounder, the Letohatchee native slipped into the second round, with some observers believing Davison could have benefited from another year in college.

Davison's selection marks the third straight year the Crimson Tide has had a player taken in the NBA Draft. 

Alabama's Keon Ellis went undrafted. The 6-foot-4-inch, 167-pound, 22-year-old senior guard/forward averaged 12.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.8 assists per game in his senior season earning All-SEC defensive team honors. According to a report from The Athletic's Shams Charania, Ellis has signed a two-way deal with the Sacramento Kings so will have an NBA opportunity.

(Original reporting by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Auburn Athletics, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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