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Toronto's Zach Edey eyes top 20 pick as Raptors continue rebuild in NBA draft

Purdue center Zach Edey celebraters after a basket against UConn during the first half of the NCAA college Final Four championship basketball game, Monday, April 8, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Brynn Anderson

TORONTO — Toronto's Zach Edey is one of the most hotly anticipated NBA prospects to come out of Canada in several years. But if he ends up on his hometown Raptors or another team remains to be seen.

The seven-foot-four, 300-pound centre is expected to be a first-round pick when the NBA Draft begins on Wednesday night and is currently projected to be selected around the No. 15 spot. The Raptors hold the 19th pick in the first round and the first pick, 31st overall, in the second.

"Getting drafted anywhere would be a blessing, but getting drafted to Toronto, that's the team you grew up watching," Edey told reporters after working out for the Raptors on June 4. "It's the team all my buddies watch, it's the team my family watches. It would be real cool."

Edey averaged 25.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and two assists over 39 games for the Purdue Boilermakers in the 2023-24 season. His NCAA career average was 18.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 assists over four season with Purdue, but those numbers are skewed lower as he started only twice in his freshman year and played half as many minutes per game that season.

The 22-year-old Edey was recognized for his impressive season when he won the Naismith Award on April 7 as U.S. college basketball's player of the year for a second time. He is only the third male player to win back-to-back Naismiths, joining Hall of Famers Ralph Sampson and Bill Walton.

Despite that collegiate success, Edey's lack of agility and speed have him projected to go in the bottom half of the opening round.

"I don't think I'm even close to my ceiling," said Edey. "I'm still doing things in practice that I've never done, still trying to add things to my game that I've never done before.

"I don't think I'm a finished product by any means in any part of my game, I think I can still get better in every part of my game."

Dan Tolzman, the Raptors assistant general manager and vice-president of player personnel, said it's hard to say how a player will do in the NBA until they're actually against that level of competition.

"I think that's a conversation for way more than just Edey too," Tolzman said on Tuesday. "All these guys are coming from almost like a different sport. College basketball, international pro basketball, like it's not the NBA with the way that they play.

"There's different shot clocks, different three-point distance -- like all of the things that go into what makes players really good at that level is different in the NBA."

The NBA changed the format of its draft for 2024, moving the second round to Thursday, giving teams nearly 20 hours to consider their board between picks. That puts the Raptors in an enviable position with the 31st pick overall.

"We’re preparing for the phones being busy leading into that pick because, as we all know, there are always players that unexpectedly fall to the second round," said Tolzman. "It could lead to maybe some more calls than what would normally be the case in a single-day draft.

"I think we’re probably leaning to, of course, keeping the pick unless something comes up."

Toronto underwent a significant rebuild during the 2023-24 season, trading OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn to the New York Knicks for Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett of Mississauga, Ont., on Dec. 30. A blockbuster deal then sent all-star Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 17, effectively ending Toronto's championship era. Hours before the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 8 the Raptors picked up Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops, B.C., and Ochai Agbaji in a deal with the Utah Jazz.

That made the Raptors new core Scottie Barnes, Barrett, and Quickley, a group all under 25.

"We have a group of young guys that we do have in mind for building around and there's holes that we do need to address," said Tolzman. "We've never been a team that wants to use the draft to fill those holes.

"We know what we're going to need long term and whether that's a combination of draft and free agency, we know where we need to get to."

The NBA's free agency will begin at 6 p.m. ET on June 30 when teams can start negotiating with players but they cannot sign anyone until July 6.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2024.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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