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NBA draft: Grizzlies select Ja Morant with No. 2 overall pick

Commercial Appeal Memphis logo Commercial Appeal Memphis 6/21/2019 David Cobb
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As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Ja Morant’s name, Morant offered hugs for the family and friends at his table, grabbed a Memphis Grizzlies hat and walked to the stage with a giant smile on his face.

Once there, he clasped hands with Silver, and the two hugged.

For a player forged on a backyard court in rural South Carolina, this was a moment that seemed improbable as recently as two years ago when Morant enrolled at Murray State as an unheralded prospect.

That’s why Morant reached the brink of tears as ESPN’s Maria Taylor asked him to explain his father Ronnie's impact on his journey, which culminated with the Grizzlies selecting Morant No. 2 overall in Thursday night's NBA Draft.

“It means a lot for both of us," Ja Morant told Taylor. "We both know what I’ve been through. I don’t want to get a little emotional up here, but I just want to thank him for everything he’s done for me. He made me who I am today, and I’m just thankful for it all.”

Ronnie put his own playing career on hold after learning that Ja's mother was pregnant. Now, the family from tiny Dalzell, S.C. boasts one of the biggest names in basketball.

“It feels good to be able to accomplish my dream," Morant said. "How I got here was just crazy. I know it’ll probably give a lot of people more confidence."

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As Morant talked through the moment with Taylor, a 6-foot-11 onlooker in a blue suit lurked in the background.

Jaren Jackson Jr. wore a big smile as he waited for the opportunity to greet Morant. Once his interview with Taylor ended, Morant gave Jackson a big hug.

Together, they will form the basis of a new core inside FedExForum, potentially for years to come.

Adam Silver in a suit standing in front of a building: Ja Morant greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number two overall pick for the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. © Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Ja Morant greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number two overall pick for the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft at Barclays Center.

The day after the Grizzlies traded Conley, this moment seemed to lessen the sting of seeing the franchise's all-time scoring leader depart for the Utah Jazz.

Cheers erupted inside FedExForum as the Silver announced the pick.

At 6-foot-3, Morant is regarded as an elite passer with off-the-charts athleticism. His 3-point shooting and defense remain unrefined. But the Grizzlies' revamped front office has signaled that it plans to be patient over the coming seasons with a first-time coach and young core.

Adam Silver in a suit standing in front of a building © Provided by Gannett Co., Inc.

"We’re not going to make broad proclamations of winning 'X' amount of games," Zach Kleiman, the executive vice president of basketball operations, said recently. "What matters to me, what matters to us, is that we’re working to improve every single day.”

With Kleiman promoted to leader of basketball operations, a new coach in Taylor Jenkins in place and Morant on board, the nucleus is in place for the Grizzlies to begin charting a course back to sustained success.

Jenkins must still hire assistant coaches, and there are plenty more personnel moves to be made before the 2019-20 roster is set.

But for Morant, Thursday was about the moment when his dreams finally came true, the moment when an unheralded prospect heard his name called near the top of the NBA Draft.

"I feel like if you don’t believe in yourself, then who will?" Morant said. "I had the right people around me. My family and coaches always always lifted me up and pushed me to work harder and be the best I can be.”

So what were those backyard workouts like that helped Morant reach this stage?

“Basically, hard work, fundamentals, dedication to everything," his father said. "Once he told me he loved it and showed me he loved it, I wanted to pump everything in me inside of him so he can reach the highest point.”

On Thursday night, it all paid off.

“Praise God," Ronnie Morant said. "Praise God. He worked hard for it.”

Reach Grizzlies beat writer David Cobb at david.cobb@commercialappeal.com or on Twitter @DavidWCobb.

IN-DEPTH: A single highlight-reel dunk defines Ja Morant ahead of NBA Draft

AREA CONNECTION: How a Memphis-area Murray State teammate helped Ja Morant reach NBA Draft lottery potential

MEET THE COACH: How Taylor Jenkins rose from Ivy League intramural player to Grizzlies coach

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: NBA draft: Grizzlies select Ja Morant with No. 2 overall pick

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