Joe Davidson

Pleasant Grove’s Marquese Chriss calls Phoenix Suns ‘a great fit’

Marquese Chriss, the former Pleasant Grove High School standout, became the fourth player from the Sacramento area selected in the first round of the NBA draft when the Kings picked him at No. 8 on Thursday.

But he didn’t stay with the hometown team long. The Kings immediately traded Chriss to Phoenix for the Suns’ No. 13 and No. 28 picks.

While wearing a Kings cap during ESPN’s broadcast, Chriss confirmed he had been traded.

“My agent let me know before they made the pick,” Chriss, a 6-foot-10 forward, said during his post-selection interview. “I’m fine with it. ... I like the coaching staff. I’m willing to go down there and learn. It’s a great fit for me. The coach, Earl Watson, he’s a real down-to-earth guy. He’s willing to let me play through mistakes. (We) talked about it. I know it’s going to take time for me to grow.”

Though Chriss knew about the trade, it was a surprise to some of the approximately 50 Pleasant Grove High School teachers and employees at Bull Wings Grill & Bar in Elk Grove to watch the draft and cheer in anticipation of his selection among the top picks. The group let out a groan when the Suns picked Dragan Bender from Croatia at No. 4 instead of Chriss, and their enthusiasm waned each time another team passed on Chriss.

But when Denver selected Kentucky guard Jamal Murray at No. 7, a buzz grew when it seemed likely Chriss would be drafted by the Kings. Even the immediate news that the Kings had traded Chriss to Phoenix didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of John DePonte, Pleasant Grove’s boys basketball coach when Chriss helped lead the Eagles to the 2013 CIF Division I state basketball championship.

“I’m happy he’s going to Phoenix, like everyone thought he was,” DePonte said. “It’s important he goes away and grows up and gets away from home, and grows into a young man.

“I’m ecstatic. Plus, it’s close enough for Southwest Airlines discounted tickets.”

Chriss, 18, joins former Elk Grove High center Bill Cartwright (third by the Knicks in 1979), Sacramento High point guard Kevin Johnson (seventh by Cavaliers in 1987) and Oak Ridge forward Ryan Anderson (21st by the Nets in 2008) as the only first-round picks from the Sacramento region.

When Chriss, who averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots in his only season at Washington, announced his intention to enter the draft on March 23 he was projected as a mid- to late first-round pick. But he soared in mock drafts to as high as No. 3 after impressive predraft workouts, where he showcased his athleticism and a shooting touch.

Johnson, now the mayor of Sacramento, had an All-Star career with the Suns after being acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers midway through his rookie season. Johnson has followed Chriss for years.

“My advice to Marquese would be to enjoy draft night, but then it is time to get to work,” Johnson said before the draft. “To stay in the league, compete in the league, and succeed in the league, it all comes down to how much work you’re willing to put in. Hopefully, Marquese has the right support system and ends up on a team with a few veterans that could set the example for him. Here in Sacramento, we will certainly be rooting him on.”

Chriss is an example of how much the draft has changed. For decades, it was unheard of for underclassmen to declare for the draft.

Cartwright, now working for his alma mater, recently said he enjoyed his four seasons at USF. “I loved school, wanted to graduate, and as an older player, I knew I’d be better suited for the NBA,” Cartwright said during an interview in April. “No regrets at all.”

Added Johnson: “It’s completely different now. When I was drafted, the first seven picks all finished their senior seasons in college. This year, there are only a handful of seniors drafted in the first round.

“When I think back to how much I matured on and off the court from my freshman to senior year, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to leave college and play in the NBA as a teenager.

“I can never blame someone for taking the leap to the NBA, especially with millions of dollars on the table. We’ve seen plenty of examples of players succeeding after being one-and-done in college, or even going straight from high school to the pros. It’s the reality of the game today, and from the NBA Finals we watched this year (with LeBron James), it isn’t hurting the game.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

Sacramento-area first-round NBA draft picks

Player

Year

No.

Team

High school

College

Bill Cartwright

1979

3

Chicago

Elk Grove

USF

Kevin Johnson

1987

7

Cleveland

Sacramento

Cal

Ryan Anderson

2008

21

New Jersey

Oak Ridge

Cal

Marquese Chriss

2016

8

Kings

Pleasant Grove

Washington

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