TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors selected Arizona center Christian Koloko with the 33rd overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night.
“Good shot blocker, really good defensive numbers,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Koloko. “Ranks really highly in all of college basketball last year in a lot of categories. Pretty decent pick and roll player, and he’s got good feet.”
The 7-foot-1 Koloko played three seasons with the Wildcats, averaging career bests of 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 37 games as a junior.
“I did talk to him and he’s super, super excited to be here,” Nurse said. “Like, really, really happy that we selected him.”
Koloko, 22, is from Douala, Cameroon, the same birth city as Raptors All-Star forward Pascal Siakam.
“I’m sure it’ll be interesting to see those guys together,” Nurse said.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri and forward Precious Achiuwa are from neighboring Nigeria.
The 2019 champions, Toronto, returned to the playoffs this season after a one-year absence, but fell behind 3-0 in the first round before losing a six-game series to Philadelphia.
Despite being loaded with long, athletic players, the Raptors didn’t have anyone on their roster taller than 6-foot-9, which made the already difficult task of defending 76ers center Joel Embiid an even tougher challenge come playoff time.
“He certainly kind of slots in, possibly, into a position of need, and roster balance, too,” Nurse said of Koloko. “Pretty exciting pick, I think, for that one tonight.”
Koloko was the 2021-22 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and an all-conference first-team selection. He led the conference and ranked 14th in the NCAA with 2.76 blocks per game, and tied an Arizona single-season record with 102 blocks.
Koloko was also one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Toronto’s pick, which originally belonged to Detroit, was acquired from San Antonio along with forward Thaddeus Young in exchange for guard Goran Dragic and Toronto’s first-round pick, 20th overall.
Last year, the Raptors picked Florida State forward Scottie Barnes with the fourth overall pick. Barnes went on to be named NBA Rookie of the Year, joining Vince Carter and Damon Stoudamire as Toronto players to win top rookie honors.
The Raptors drafted 33rd for the first time in team history.
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Ian Harrison, The Associated Press