Jalen Johnson got the call - and then waited - to be drafted by Hawks

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Jalen Johnson knew something few others did – including some members of his family.

He was going to be drafted by the Hawks.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was preparing to go on stage at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn and announce that Kai Jones would be selected with the 19th overall pick. Johnson was sitting on the floor with other future NBA players waiting their turn to head to the spotlight. That’s when the phone rang. It was Johnson’s agent informing him that he would be next.

“Your heart starts beating fast,” Johnson said Friday. “Your mind starts racing. Your family don’t know in the stands. It’s crazy.”

And then it all became reality five minutes later.

The Hawks used the 20th pick to select Johnson, a small forward who played last season at Duke. The team used its second-round pick, the 48th, to select Sharife Cooper, a point guard who played last season at Auburn. The McEachern High product was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s co-player of the year in 2019 with Isaac Okoro and also was Georgia’s Mr. Basketball and the Gatorade Player of the Year. The Hawks introduced both at a press conference Friday.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

It also was Johnson’s agent who called weeks earlier to inform him that he would be one of the few players invited to the draft green room – a clear indication that his NBA dream soon would be realized.

Johnson did not have a pre-draft workout with the Hawks. However, he met team officials at the scouting combine in Chicago.

“It was quite a surprise,” Johnson said about finding out the Hawks would be his destination. “… That meant a lot because a lot (teams) have been hesitant. But I remember having a great conversation with Atlanta in Chicago at the combine. The conversation went very well. It went a long way for them to believe in me and pick me at 20.”

The 19-year-old Johnson abruptly left Duke in the middle of his only season in February and declared for the draft. He reportedly said he wanted to be 100% healthy for the draft after dealing with a foot injury. In 13 games, including eight starts, he averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 21.4 minutes. At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, with a 7-foot wingspan, he shot 52.3% from the field and 44.4% from 3-point range.

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said the team had a list of 15 players that they didn’t think would be available at No 20. Indeed, they weren’t.

“He was in the bucket of guys who could get to us,” Schlenk said of Johnson. “We had him ranked higher (than 20), but we felt there was a chance. We weren’t shocked when he was there, but we were certainly happy when he was there.”

With limited college experience, the Hawks are banking on Johnson and his upside. Hawks coach Nate McMillan has the reputation for developing players. McMillan met with Johnson on Friday.

“He said you are going to have to earn your time,” Johnson said. “There are guys in front of you. He believes he makes players better. That’s something I love to hear. He said you are going to have to be in this gym, dedicate yourself to the gym. That’s not a problem. I live and die in the gym. I’m excited to see the progress I make this year and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Johnson and Cooper are expected to play for the Hawks in the Las Vegas Summer League, which starts next week. The team departs early next week for a mini-training camp before play begins Aug. 8.

Cooper, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, played in only 12 games at Auburn and averaged 20.2 points and 8.1 assists in 33.1 minutes. He shot 39.1% from the field, including 22.8% from 3-point range.

Cooper said he grew up a Hawks fan and already has a relationship with Trae Young. He worked out for the Hawks before the draft but had no idea he could one day be wearing the uniform of his favorite team.

“I didn’t know,” Cooper said of the possibility. “I felt like I had a great workout. I feel like there was a great energy. I definitely thought it was a possibility, but being that it’s here and it actually happened, it’s surreal.”