The Utah Jazz went big in the first round of the NBA Draft, selecting Kansas Center Udoka Azubuike with the 27th overall pick.
But they weren’t done there.
The Jazz have acquired the draft rights to Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes, the 39th pick overall, in a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. Utah sent a future second-round pick and cash considerations to New Orleans in exchange for the 6-foot-6 Hughes.
Hughes led the ACC in scoring last season, averaging 19 points per game to go with 4.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals. The Beacon, N.Y., native was an ACC First Team selection.
Here’s what Hughes told reporters after being drafted:
Q: What is your style of play and what will you bring to the Jazz?
HUGHES: Yeah, so my style of play is just kind of all-around kind of offensive threat, put the ball on the floor, make plays, making the game easy, quick, one-dribble pull-ups, two-dribble pull-ups, knock down open shots.
Just kind of a full offensive threat, a defensive mind who competes and is going to be ready to compete from day one. I want to show people I can defend, and I want to prove that and lead from day one.
Q: Can you tell us about the emotions of the last eight months?
HUGHES: Let me tell you, these last eight months was a roller coaster, to be honest, a lot of up and down, a lot of uncertainty, getting down on myself.
But I’ve got to credit my support system, my family, my friends, they keep me up, my family, my friends, my agent.
When you have good people like that around you, it’s hard to stay down on yourself. It’s easy for me to get my confidence back, just keep controlling the controllables. That’s been my mindset this whole last eight months.
Q. Just wondering what kind of contact you had with the Jazz prior to the Draft? Did you do a workout? Did you have Zoom interviews? What was your reaction when you found out that you were headed to Salt Lake City?
HUGHES: Right, you know, I didn’t do any workouts with the players, but we had a really good interview session with them, Zoom call, and it went really well, really smooth.
My reaction, I was just kind of like, my heart started pumping and I started sweating and I couldn’t hold back — I tried my best to hold back the tears, but it just kind of flowed with it. I’m still right now kind of shaking, and it’s still kind of surreal.
Q. Take me through the emotion. You’re sitting in the room with your family, and then did you hear — did you get a phone call and then did you hear your name? Take me through all the emotion of when you were actually selected.
HUGHES: Yeah, I was kind of cornered at first, watching the last couple picks in the 30s, and I was kind of just in the corner by myself. My family got the vibe that I was kind of like, leave me alone. My family knew what it was.
I was sitting there by myself, and my agent called me. And he said, get ready, get in the seat because you’re going to Utah at 39. After he told me that, my heart stopped. My heart stopped beating. I’m not trying to be funny, my heart really stopped beating, and I kind of lost it for a little bit.
But I got in the seat, and it just happened, and like I was so — I’ll never forget, I’m still shaking right now. It’s crazy. I’m probably talking a bit too much, but I’m just super excited, super happy.
Q. I’ve got a question for you in regards to Utah. Now that you’re going to be playing with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, what do you look forward to learning from a guy like Donovan Mitchell?
HUGHES: Right. Off the jump, Donovan Mitchell kind of being an underrated guy going into the league, so his mindset, number one, just trying to pick his brain as much as I can, just pick his brain on the court as well. He’s one of the dynamic scorers now in the NBA, and he’s really good at picking his spots. So just any way I can, try and pick his brain and his position.
And a guy like Rudy, he’s the rim protector. He’s going to give you everything he’s got on defense. He’s developing his offensive game, as well, and I want to be a guy that goes in there ready to learn but also to be myself, put the ball on the floor, make plays and make shots.
Q. You talked about the journey you had over these last eight months, that your journey is unique as far as you started at East Carolina and then came to Syracuse. What’s that mean to represent the small area of Beacon, New York, and say, I’m drafted in the NBA?
HUGHES: Man, it’s everything. It’s one of the reasons why I work as hard as I work because I kind of want to bring that attitude to this area where I’m from, Beacon, New York, kind of everything is possible. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how big of a town it is, how much hype it has. You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.
That’s kind of been my mindset. Every rep I’m doing, no matter how tired I am, I just want to push through it and try to make it the best rep possible.
Q. Just wondering if you can tell the people of Salt Lake City and Utah something about yourself, not necessarily as a basketball player, just what they can get to know about Elijah Hughes the human being.
HUGHES: I’m a people person. I love people. Love meeting people. A really smiley guy. I love sneakers. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sneaker fanatic. I love sneakers.
I’m just really like up tempo, good locker room guy, loves to smile, loves to just have a good time but also knows when it’s time to be serious and when it’s time to compete, and just a laid back dude. I don’t do much. I’m not a gamer. I watch a lot of movies, just hang back and chill. But my biggest thing is just sneakers and fashion for sure.
Q. I wanted to ask you what you think of Donovan Mitchell and what you think of being able to play alongside a guy like that and the leadership he brings to a team.
HUGHES: I think Donovan is one of the best players in the league, if you ask me, what he brings, what he can do offensively, even defensively. It’s kind of off the charts.
I think what separates him a lot is the chip on his shoulder. His determination is something that I really, really admire about him, and it’s something that I would like to take after him, as well.
He came into the league without a lot of hype, overlooked in the draft. So his mentality is just different, and I’ve loved him for that ever since. And he’s just been a guy that you kind of had to root for. You can’t not root for Donovan Mitchell. Again, like I said, it’s hard not to root for him.