The NBA lays in front of both Paolo Banchero and Caleb Houstan. It probably started to feel pretty real when they got off the plane in Orlando and arrived at the Amway Center. Their last stop on a whirlwind 24 hours following Thursday’s NBA Draft.
It is exhausting, at the end. And the last thing anyone wants is another sitdown facing the media as they made their first trip to Orlando.
There is a lot of work to do. Dreams are finally being realized and it is all so close if they could just finish smiling for this last photo and get through this last press conference. Everyone could use a moment to decompress.
The idea of playing NBA basketball is right there. And that is what everyone is looking forward to most.
In a few weeks, Summer League begins and of all the things about the NBA that excites even the No. 1 pick, it is simply getting to do the thing he has been training to do forever — to play some basketball.
"“Really just getting a chance to get out there and play and compete again,” Banchero said during Friday’s introductory press conference. “Pre-Draft is just, for me at least, a lot of 1-on-0 workouts. Trying to stay sharp but try to stay healthy. Not put too much on my body. But with that comes not being able to play really any live-action. No 5-on-5. No 1-on-1, 3-on-3. I’m really looking forward to getting back to bumping live, playing 5-on-5 and getting four other guys and compete.”"
Orlando fans and the Magic themselves are eager to see that part too. There is a reason the Magic made Banchero the number one pick and (perhaps) went out on a limb to draft Houstan in the second round of the draft and that is all they can do on the floor.
And it is plenty.
But none of that matters. As talented as both players are — and as much pressure as there is on the number one pick to perform at a high level — they are entering a new world. That was something everyone seemed willing to remind both players. The NBA is another step up. It is a challenge.
Both Paolo Banchero and Caleb Houstan arrived in Orlando to much fanfare. But the Orlando Magic’s rookies will quickly learn they have to earn their keep. They are ready for the challenge.
What they get in the NBA is never going to be given. It is no guarantee either player reaches their potential. Their success will come down to the work.
Judging by the pedigree both players come from — Paolo Banchero from Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski and Caleb Houstan from Michigan under coach Juwan Howard — they understand that they have a lot to do to earn their keep in the NBA.
And that they are ready for the challenge.
"“There’s not going to be any handouts no matter what you have done in the past or what your reputation is,” Banchero said during his introductory press conference Friday. “At Duke, I had to earn everything. I wasn’t handed anything. That was some o the advice he gave me heading into this stage. No matter what pick you are, you have to take what you want. You’re not going to be handed anything at this level.”"
Undoubtedly, the Magic made a massive talent upgrade to their roster with these two selections.
Banchero was a consensus All-American who averaged 17.2 points per game and grabbed 7.8 rebounds per game. He was a dynamic scorer from every level of the floor.
But even as the No. 1 pick, he is not a player without flaws. He has to show he can improve both his outside shot and his defensive intensity. Both areas he acknowledges still need work.
Houstan was a five-star prospect from the local Montverde Academy (he is originally from the Toronto area). He struggled in his lone year at Michigan, averaging 10.1 points per game and shooting 35.5-percent from three.
But he is 6-foot-8 with good length and still projects as a solid 3-and-D player, at minimum. He is undoubtedly talented and not too far removed from that potential.
President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said the team’s goal was to add skill, size, shooting IQ, integrity and positional versatility to the roster. He feels he has done that. And it will set up both Banchero and Houstan for potential success as much as their overall talent will.
Now comes the work of finding that fit with the team.
With the addition of both players, there is a little bit of buzz about the Magic and their young roster. There are several people who believe the Magic were among the winners of the draft — even those who thought another player would have been the better pick.
It is easy to get trapped with all the accolades and buzz. But what will really matter is how players approach things and how they integrate into the culture.
Houstan expressed his eagerness to fit into the culture the Magic have and develop alongside the young players. But it will be his experience at Michigan that will help him really integrate.
"“Coach Juwan always talks about 50/50 balls, hustle plays,” Houstan said during Friday’s press conference. “That was something they expressed a lot in the culture in Michigan. A lot I would say.”"
"“He’s going to fit right in,” coach Jamahl Mosley added immediately after. “Knowing Juwan and what they do there with as many Michigan guys that we have, that’s what it’s about. The hustle plays, the 50/50 balls, the charges are going to fit right in with our guys.”"
Duke is about that culture too. A powerhouse program like Duke does not build itself without having those principles seemingly set.
Mosley said Banchero brings the team IQ, character, versatility and the winning mindset they need. Banchero is going to fit the character of what the Magic are trying to build.
There is that expectation for them to step right in and contribute. To what degree will be up to them.
That is the real challenge ahead of them now. They earned their spot — Banchero at No. 1 and Houstan at No. 32. But that number no longer matters. What matters is what happens on the court. And every part of that is going to be earned.
Both have a long way to go to be where they want to be and achieve their goals. Both will have pressure to perform when they take the floor.
Banchero certainly will. The top pick in the draft will always come with that kind of pressure and expectation. And Banchero is keeping a high level of expectation for himself as he takes that next step up to the league.
"“Definitely going to be high expectations for myself that I’m going to hold myself to and everyone is going to hold myself to,” Banchero said during Friday’s introductory press conference. “I feel like it is nothing I’m not used to. It was the same thing for me heading into college and throughout high school having a lot of expectations. It’s kind of been like that my whole life. I am going to approach it the same way I have always approached it. Have fun with it and buy into the team.”"
The proof will come on the court though. Everything always comes on the court.
And whether that process begins next week when Summer League practices begin, July 7 when the team takes the floor in Las Vegas or in the fall when training camp opens, nothing is guaranteed to any player ever.
Everything is fought for and earned. Even for the No. 1 pick.
And that is a challenge he and this team are ready to tackle.