14 Things You Didn't Know About the NBA's 14 International First Round Draft Picks

Six out of the top 10 picks and a record 14 of the 30 first picks were born outside the U.S.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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Immigration has become a polarizing topic in the United States during this election year, but the NBA made a statement last week with a record breaking number of international draft picks selected in the first round of Thursday’s draft.  

Six out of the top 10 picks and a record 14 of the 30 first picks were born outside the U.S. And while we’ve already told you a few things you might not know about notable international stars Ben Simmons, Dragan Bender, and Buddy Hield, how much do you know about Jakob Poeltl and Guerschon Yabusele?

We put together a quick list of some interesting facts about the men of mystery who were selected in the historic first round of the 2016 NBA Draft. Here are ​14 Things You Didn't Know About the NBA's 14 International First Round Draft Picks. Long title. We know. 

1. He’s the first Austrian-born player ever to be drafted in the NBA.

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Poeltl had a pretty illustrious first two years at Utah. Projected as a first round pick in last year’s draft, Poeltl opted to play another year of college ball instead which gave him the opportunity to be named Pac-12 Player of the Year as well as a Second Team All-American. While some Raptors fans aren’t really grasping it quite yet, Poeltl size will surely make a difference under the basket in the coming years.

2. He was ball boy for his professional athlete parents.

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Both his mom and dad played for Austria’s national volleyball teams, and Jakob got in on it in the nerdiest, most endearing way possible. Rather than playing volleyball, he was a ball boy for their matches. Once he was old enough to commit to a sport himself, he rejected one of the only other sports suitable for a kid who would eventually be 7’, and got into basketball.

3. People lost it when Thon Maker dominated an OVO basketball tournament at 16 years old.

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In 2013, Maker played against Raptor’s power forward Amir Johnson at Drake’s OVO Bounce Classic, a pickup tournament mainly for professional players. And Maker was as lanky as could be since he had not yet gained the extra 30-ish pounds he carries now. Around 200 pounds then and 7’1”, the teen became a spectacle at the tournament when he kept up with NBA players.  

Johnson had no idea Maker was 16. But it turns out Johnson definitely wouldn’t be the last one to question his age.

4. Maker left Sudan as a refugee, and has since lived in Australia, Uganda, Canada, and the U.S.

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Listed as Sudanese and Australian, Maker is even more international than that label suggests. At 6 years old, he and his family left Sudan during its civil war and fled to Uganda. After being accepted as a refugee in Australia, Maker remained there until he was discovered at a pick up game by Edward Smith, who would become his legal guardian in the United States. And about a year after his debut at the OVO Bounce Classic, Maker moved to Canada with his brother, which is where he really settled in as a player, balling alongside fellow first rounder Jamal Murray in Ontario.

5. Damontas Sabonis wears No. 11 to honor his dad, who played in the NBA for seven seasons.

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My inspiration. Proud to wear his name on the back of my jersey. #Sabonis #11 #NBADraft pic.twitter.com/xo543H1N9w

— Domantas Sabonis (@Dsabonis11) June 23, 2016

Arvydas Sabonis was a fan favorite, playing for the Portland Trailblazers in the late 90’s. But his real impact was felt during his days as an international player for the Soviet Union and Lithuania, making himself a sort of folklore legend as a 7'3" center with a penchant for creative passing.

7. Georgios Papagiannis was the youngest player to ever join the Greek professional league.

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Papagiannis’ spot in the NBA has been a long time coming. He’s only 18 now, but he’s been playing in the pros in Greece since the ripe old age of 14. And after signing with the Kings, he becomes one of only two Greek natives currently in the league.

8. Papagiannis' dad is not a Dragan Bender fan.

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Most young players know it’s probably too early to start talking trash, but apparently that word hasn’t quite reached Papagiannis’ dad. He called Dragan Bender, the fourth pick in the draft, a lot of things on Twitter, including a “SOFT player.” All caps included.

Curious to know if Papagiannis’ dad saw what Demarcus Cousins tweeted after his son was drafted.

9. Juan Hernangomez's family has deep roots in the game.

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Literally everyone in Hernangomez’s immediate family plays or has played basketball. His brother is Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez, who is two years Juan’s senior and was picked up by the Knicks in the second round of last year’s draft.

The siblings’ can thank their mom and dad for the basketball genes. Juan’s mother played for the Spanish National Team in the 1992 Olympics, and his father played pro in the ACB league.

10. Guerschon Yabusele was just as shocked as everyone that he went 16th overall.

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Yabusele said even after working out with the Celtics earlier in the month he wasn’t sure they were taking him.

"No, nobody was expecting," said Yabusele told ESPN after he was selected 16th overall by Boston. "I see them coming close to me, see my name. So I was really surprised to be in here, but I was so happy."

11. Twitter was going in on Yabusele's name.

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The NBA is home to a lot of outlandishly long names, and Yabusele is not helping basketball fans or sport journalists hide their poor spelling habits. Twitter had a good time going in on him with some elementary-style jokes about his unique name. Very mature, guys.


12. Ante Zizic first sport was soccer.

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At 6’11”, Zizic—who was selected 23rd by the Celtics—knew he was probably a better fit for basketball than he was for soccer. He told Draft Express he originally played soccer simply because his friends were doing it, but after watching his brother's lengthy career in the European League, he switched over to basketball.

13. Eagles player Brandon Brooks showed Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot what’s up in Philly.

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“TLC” hasn’t had a cheesesteak yet, and Eagles guard Brandon Brooks is looking to fix that. The Sixers tweeted a pic of the Philadelphia rookies holding up freshly personalized Eagles jerseys with a proud looking Brooks in the back. Brandon then tweeted that it was his job to take Luwawu, the 24th pick, to Wawa for his first hoagie. Nothing says the City of Brotherly Love like aggressive Eagles fandom and inexpensive hoagies.

14. Pascal Siakam's father wanted him to be a priest or a basketball player.

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His late father always wanted one of his sons to be either a priest or a pro basketball player. Siakam, selected 27th overall by the Raptors, went for the basketball option. His brothers played at Vanderbilt, UIPUI, and Western Kentucky, but he is the first of the four to make it to the draft.

15. Skal Labissiere's family survived the 2010 Haiti earthquake because his dad was fixing a basketball net.

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Labissiere, who went 28th overall to the Kings (after a trade with the Suns), and his family survived the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that took almost 100,000 lives in 2010. His father was outside fixing the family’s basketball net during the quake, and was therefore able to lead emergency respondents to the rest of his family, who had become trapped under the rubble.

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