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Garza drafted by Detroit with 52nd pick

AP FILE PHOTO - Iowa center Luka Garza (55) shoots against Minnesota during the second half of a college basketball game in Minneapolis on Dec. 25, 2020.

DETROIT — Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver didn’t want to overthink the first pick in the NBA draft. He never got an offer he liked to change his mind, either.

Weaver stuck with the franchise’s youth movement and grabbed Cade Cunningham, the 6-foot-8 Oklahoma State guard considered the no-brainer choice at No. 1.

“This was almost anti-climactic because everyone had him first in their mock drafts,” he said with a smile Thursday night. “He gives our roster so much flexibility because we can play him in the frontcourt or the backcourt. That and his leadership — he’s a human connector — are two of the things that put him over the top.”

Cunningham said he had been waiting for the moment since hearing the results of last month’s lottery. He kissed his 2-year-old daughter, Riley, and pulled on a blue Pistons hat and sunglasses in the glow of becoming the top pick.

“I’ve been working hard for a long time to be the No. 1 guy, and when I heard the Pistons got the pick, I was ecstatic,” he said. “I’m going into a great situation where I can grow. I’ll forever be grateful for Detroit trusting me like this.”

Cunningham, the Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American as a freshman, led the Cowboys to a 21-9 record and their first NCAA Tournament berth in four years. The point guard from Arlington, Texas, averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season but the stats don’t fully reflect his playmaking ability.

Cunningham will join a team that has won just 20 games each of the past two seasons and hasn’t finished better than .500 for five straight years.

He will add another weapon to a Detroit lineup that had four players aged 21 or younger in their rotation last season.

The Pistons had three second-round picks. They sent the 37th pick — JT Thor — to Charlotte for the 57th choice to get Mason Plumlee’s contract off the books, then stayed local by taking Michigan forward Isaiah Livers at No. 42.

The Pistons took Iowa center Luka Garza at No. 52, marking the first time they had taken two consensus first-team All-Americans in the same draft since Jimmy Walker and Bob Lloyd in 1967.

Garza was the 2021 consensus National Player of the Year, sweeping the major postseason awards.

Last week, Garza was recognized as the Big Ten Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year. Iowa’s first two-time unanimous consensus first-team All-American led the nation in total points (747), 30-point games (8), field goals made (281), and 20-point games (22). Garza owns Iowa’s single-season (747) and all-time (2,306) scoring records.

Detroit finished by taking Serbian center Balöa Koprivica at No. 57. Koprivica played high-school ball with Cunningham at Monteverde Academy in Florida before playing two seasons at Florida State.

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