This was somewhat similar to last year's scenario when they held the No. 16 pick and Marreese Speights emerged as the highest-rated player remaining on their board. This time, they tried to move up what senior vice-president/assistant general manager Tony DiLeo termed "a little bit, but we couldn't."
The Sixers did not have Holiday in for a workout, but did interview him during the predraft combine in Chicago. When his advisors believed he would be a top 10 pick, he canceled coming to Philadelphia.
"I heard different things," Holiday said during a telephone interview session. "I had no expectations of where I was going."
He also said, "At the beginning of this whole thing, [I was hearing] late first, early second. I'm satisfied and blessed where I got chosen."
The Sixers seemed genuinely pleased, even more so than with last season's selection of Speights.
"He's an athletic kid who will play at both ends," president/general manager Ed Stefanski said. "One thing you know if you're going to play for Ben Howland at UCLA, you're going to play defense. For a young rookie here, if you play defense that can get you on the floor."
Said coach Howland, in a statement released by UCLA, "Seventeen is not a bad place to be. There are a lot of things that have to take place. Every team is looking for different things. He had been projected as high as eight down to about 15 . . . Jrue is in a great situation in a nice town with a good history for basketball."
At 19, the 6-3 freshman is one of the six youngest players in the draft. He is also the first UCLA player to be selected by the Sixers.
"For him to drop to us, we're ecstatic," DiLeo said. "He's exactly what we wanted, a big guard. People didn't really see his point guard skills [at UCLA]."
That's because Holiday played mostly shooting guard, in deference to Darren Collison. The Bruins recruited Holiday believing Collison was leaving for the pros, only to see him return for his senior season.
"He's a point guard," DiLeo said. "He grew up a point guard. He wants to play [there]; he wants to make people around him better.
"He handled the situation well. He told us he was never jealous of Collison, that he really liked him as a teammate, liked playing with him."
Holiday said he is "most definitely a point guard. I can distribute, I can lock up on defense."
But even though the Sixers have no other point guards on their current roster, DiLeo insisted, "He's young, and you never want to put a lot of pressure [on a young player]. He definitely can come in and play. We drafted him not as a guy we want to rely on immediately. We're still a work in progress as a team."
That work includes coming up with a veteran point guard, one who can start and also serve as a tutor. They cannot begin to negotiate with unrestricted free agent Andre Miller until July 1, and there is no guarantee that he will be back.
"Time will tell what happens there," said Stefanski. "July 1, we'll see where both parties are, see if there's common ground . . . Free agency is going to be very interesting [in the current economic climate]. It's a whole new world this summer. The 'A' type players will go right away, the others will be sitting there for a while."
Holiday admitted he was frustrated at times playing out of position in his only college season, but described it as "something new, a new experience."
"It's definitely something that helped my game," he said. "We can have two point guards in the backcourt. I know where to go, where to set up. I don't need the ball to always help the team."
Holiday didn't make much of a lasting impression in two games of the NCAA Tournament in the Wachovia Center; in his final appearance, he shot 1-for-6 with four points and seven assists in an 89-69 loss to Villanova. Nor has he been a three-point threat, shooting 30.7 percent from beyond the arc for the season.
"We were surprised he was there for us," DiLeo said. "Not shocked, but surprised. We studied him. He fits our team."
Holiday was the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior at Campbell Hall High in Chatsworth, Calif., averaging 25.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 4.8 steals in his final year.
And, for the record, maybe the Sixers don't see him as an immediate impact player, but he said he can be exactly that.
"I see myself as an impact player, [that] any time I step on the floor I'm going to contribute, impact the game," he said. "I think that's possible my first year." *
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