ORLANDO, Florida — The Orlando Magic don't believe they made a leap of faith by taking Croatia's Mario Hezonja with the fifth overall pick in Thursday's NBA draft.
They've had their eye on him for a while now.
"He's been on the radar the last four or five years," Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. "We feel very confident in our evaluation of him."
Orlando entered Thursday night in need of both scoring and a defensive presence on the interior. Now the Magic are hoping the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Hezonja can eventually be a scoring answer for a team that finished 25th in the league in that department last season.
"I'm trying to do best on everything I can do in the game of basketball and do everything on the highest level," Hezonja said by phone after his selection Thursday night. "People say I have confidence and all this stuff. It's just me. It pushes me to go even harder."
The Magic also drafted Eastern Washington's Tyler Harvey in the second round with the 51st overall pick. Hennigan lauded Harvey, who was the leading scorer NCAA Division I as a junior, as a "sophisticated offensive player."
The 20-year-old Hezonja can either play shooting guard or small forward and has spent the past three years playing for Spain's FC Barcelona and in the Euroleague. He also has experience playing with Croatia's national team.
He stayed up late with his family to watch the draft from Barcelona. With the time difference, it was after 2 a.m. when he heard his name called.
The expectation is that Hezonja will be available to play for the 2015-16 season, Hennigan said. He said he has no concerns about the buyout from FC Barcelona, which just concluded its season this week.
Hezonja echoed that, and said he has about three days left to spend in Barcelona and "then I'm coming to see all you guys out there."
That's welcome news for an Orlando franchise that is entering the fourth year of a rebuilding project and will have a new coach in Scott Skiles, who was hired last month.
Hennigan said he had a few scenarios to trade down in the first round "on deck" but decided to stand pat once they saw that Hezonja would be available.
Hezonja was the second international prospect selected Thursday. The New York Knicks took 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick. Hezonja becomes the highest international draft pick the Magic have made. In 2005, they selected Spain's Fran Vasquez 11th overall.
Hezonja has proven to be a versatile scorer in Europe and adds another scorer alongside young guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, and center Nik Vucevic. Hezonja also could be a long-term option for the Magic at small forward, even if the team doesn't re-sign Tobias Harris, who becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.
Skiles said he likes all the potential lineup options that Hezonja's addition brings to the table. He's also another player on the Magic's current roster that has the ability to play multiple positions.
"There's all kinds of combinations that can be put out there," Skiles said. "More versatility is always good."
Hezonja has actually been playing professionally in Europe since age 11, when he on his hometown team in Croatia.
So being able to adjust to the professional regimen won't be an issue, he said.
"The three years here (with FC Barcelona) you face a real struggle," Hezonja said. "It depends on the player, but sometimes you're not able to compete (right away) ... but I had a great group of guys ... older guys that were teaching me every day not only about basketball but life off of the court."
Hennigan said Hezonja's pick was an example of long-range scouting paying off.
"This is a guy we were hoping would be there," he said. "We feel like it's a great fit in a lot of different ways. We love his skill set, we love his personality. And love the charisma and swagger he plays with. I think he'll fit in quite well."
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