LAS VEGAS — Before Julian Strawther’s mother, Lourdes, died of breast cancer in 2011, he promised her one thing.
“And that was that I was going to make the NBA and I was going to accomplish my dreams,” Strawther said.
Thursday night Strawther honored his mother’s memory when he was chosen 29th overall of the 2023 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets, via the Indiana Pacers.
“I got to fulfill that promise, so that’s number one for sure,” he added, moments after emerging from a back bedroom of a luxury suite high atop Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa. “Everything I do is for her.”
Roughly 70 people erupted in cheers, and tears, and laughter, and joy, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Strawther’s name.
“It’s everything I ever dreamed of, hearing Adam Silver call my name,” said Strawther, who graduated from Southern Nevada’s Liberty High School. “I mean, you visualize that in your head all the time, you have dreams about it, but it’s nothing like the real thing. This is everything.”
Former Gonzaga teammate and current member of the Orlando Magic Jalen Suggs was overcome with emotion, as he sat with Strawther the entire time leading up to hearing his name called.
“Just amazing,” a sobbing Suggs said. “He deserves every second of this moment. Just from what he’s gone through his own life, from us being together going to school. He didn’t play much the first year, but he was there with me every day. He motivated me, kept me up. At my down times, I always go to Julian. We twins, we one in the same. For him to have this moment, it’s amazing.”
Shortly after the Zags were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, Strawther joined Suggs in Orlando. And once the Magic season ended, the two have been inseparable, not only working out on the court, but with Suggs keeping Strawther focused.
And once the two arrived in Las Vegas just days before the draft, and in the hours leading up to it, Suggs has been there for his best friend, telling him the same thing over and over.
“Just enjoy it, man. To soak all of this in,” Suggs said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment and to have all his family and friends here, everybody who he loves and has helped him get to this moment, and for me to be able to share this with my brother, it’s special. I’m happy for him. I’ve been trying to keep a smile on his face, keep him not stressing from the draft too much, but yeah, this has been a great week.”
Strawther considered turning pro last season, but after attending the draft combine and doing private workouts for several teams, he announced he was returning to Gonzaga. He registered an impressive junior campaign by averaging 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds and turned in a highlight 3-pointer from the March Madness logo that lifted Gonzaga past UCLA in the regional semifinals.
And from a winning culture at Gonzaga to the recently crowned NBA champion Nuggets, Strawther is expected to make his debut in the upcoming NBA Summer League, hoping to fit into a system he may recognize.
There are similarities in the style of play when comparing Nuggets star Nikola Jokic and former Gonzaga teammate Drew Timme. It would certainly make the transition easy for Strawther, who’s used to playing with a dominant post.
“It’s a perfect fit cause he’s a winner, they’re winners, the style of play fits, a lot of movement, a lot of backdoor cutting, a lot of drive and kick to someone that Julian will benefit from that,” said Strawther’s father, Lee. “And you’re playing with a post player who is great in the post but can also find you on the wing when a double team comes. It’s a perfect match.”
Said Julian Strawther: “At the end of the day everything worked and I’m just super blessed and thankful.”