Raptors draft Arizona C Christian Koloko with 33rd pick

TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors selected Arizona center Christian Koloko with the 33rd overall pick in the NBA draft Thursday night.

“Good shot-blocker, really good defensive numbers,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Koloko. “He’s ranked really high in all of college basketball last year in a lot of categories. Pretty decent pick and roll player, and he has good feet.”

The 2.1-meter Koloko played three seasons with the Wildcats, averaging 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 37 games as a junior.

“I’ve talked to him and he’s super, super excited to be here,” Nurse said. “Like, really, really glad we picked him.”

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Koloko, 22, is from Douala, Cameroon, the same hometown as Raptors All-Star forward Pascal Siakam.

“I’m sure it will be interesting to see these guys together,” Nurse said.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri and forward Precious Achiuwa are from neighboring Nigeria.

2019 champions Toronto returned to the playoffs this season after a year-long absence but fell behind 3-0 in the first round before losing a six-game series to Philadelphia.

Despite being full of long, athletic players, the Raptors had no one on their roster taller than six feet, which made the already difficult task of defending 76ers center Joel Embiid an even more difficult challenge at the time of playoffs.

“He certainly kind of fits, possibly, in a position of need and casting balance as well,” Nurse said of Koloko. “Pretty exciting choice, I think, for this 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 the Arizona season record with 102 blocks.

Koloko was also one of the 10 semi-finalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Toronto’s pick, originally owned by 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.

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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 earn top rookie honors.

The Raptors were drafted 33rd for the first time in team history.

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