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Toronto Raptors draft center Christian Koloko 33rd overall

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors believe they’ve filled a need by drafting Christian Koloko.

The Raptors took Koloko 33rd on Thursday with Toronto’s only pick in this year’s NBA draft. The seven-foot-one center averaged 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game for the University of Arizona last season.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said he was intrigued by what the new addition could do for his defensive plans.

“Good shot blocker, great defensive numbers, ranks very well in all of college basketball last year in a lot of categories,” said Nurse, who added that Koloko could also be an offensive option. “Pretty decent pick-and-roll player and he’s got good feet.

“I think he’s a big shot blocker that protects the rim, but I think he’s not without the ability to make changes and move his feet around the perimeter as well.”

Koloko was the 2021-22 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and All-Pac-12 First Team Pick. He led the Pac-12 in blocks per game and was ranked 14th in American college play, being named All-American Lefty Driesell Defensive and All-American Lute Olsen.

“I spoke to him and he’s super, super excited to be here,” Nurse said. “Like really, really happy that we selected him.”

Toronto acquired the 33rd pick on Feb. 10 in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs. Drew Eubanks, Thaddeus Young and a 2022 second-round pick originally owned by the Detroit Pistons were sent to Toronto in exchange for Goran Dragic and a protected 2022 first-round pick.

The Raptors’ first second-round pick was traded to Philadelphia on a trade on Feb. 6, 2019, with the 76ers then moving him to Golden State.

Toronto general manager Bobby Webster said the Raptors had no offers to move up in the draft, but he felt they had selected the best player available.

“He was in our top 20 or top 25, whatever our roster was, (and) we were comfortable (when) at 33, he was there,” Webster said.

Koloko hails from Douala, Cameroon, the same hometown of Raptors star striker Pascal Siakam. The nurse hopes Siakam’s presence will help Koloko acclimate quickly to Toronto.

“He won’t have to walk around as much,” Nurse told OVO Center, the Raptors’ training facility. “I know it sounds a little silly, but you just have to find your way and get into places and know ‘Hey there’s the strength coach and there’s the chef and here’s where you park “and it all helps you get to work.”

Siakam, Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby were at the OVO center on Thursday training with Nurse and other Toronto coaches.

Nurse said it’s important for the Raptors to keep working in the offseason and to continue to foster team chemistry.

“It was exciting to see them get into it a bit,” he said. “I think both sides of the ball can only help them, play against each other.

“Athletes of similar size in positions of similar size. They have to protect each other and they have to try to score on each other and things like that. So that’s good.”

Visa issues are currently preventing Koloko from entering Canada, but Webster said as soon as the 22-year-old signs his contract on July 1, he will be able to get a work permit.

Barnes was selected fourth overall by the Raptors in last year’s draft, with Dalano Banton (46th) and David Johnson (47th) going to Toronto in the second round. Barnes averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, becoming the third player in Raptors history to win NBA Rookie of the Year.

Webster said that as a second-round pick, Koloko will have lower expectations than what Barnes was facing.

“Historically, a second-round pick is a different journey,” Webster said. “When you come in as Scottie, you come in as a first-round pick, there’s a little more expectation and maybe some responsibility that you hold.

“I think we don’t want to put boxes around these guys. So he comes in and he’ll be in the summer league, and we’ll see what he can do.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 23, 2022.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press