It was a whirlwind night for Kelly Oubre Jr. on Thursday. But, then again, it’s been a whirlwind life for the newest member of the Washington Wizards.
The peripatetic 19-year-old will be packing his bags once again for a new home. Born in New Orleans, Oubre moved to a suburb of Houston in the wake of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago. He would later transfer to basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep in Las Vegas for his senior year of high school, before settling in Lawrence, Kansas, where he played for Jayhawks head coach Bill Self.
Now he’s headed to the nation’s capital after being selected, and then immediately traded, by the Atlanta Hawks. Brimming with confidence, Oubre, who has a mohawk and wore a dark maroon suit on Thursday, described himself as a “jewel,” which is a fine word choice considering the white jewel-studded shoes he graced at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Oubre, who will be making nearly $4 million in salary next season and roughly $9.2 million over a four-year contract, had little problem with all of the behind-the-scenes moves. He was just pleased to be joining a strong NBA team.
“It hasn’t been bad for me,” Oubre said close to midnight at a sparsely attended draft press conference. “I got traded but it was kind of a cool thing. When I got drafted by the Hawks, I was already told that the Wizards are trying to make a move on me. So, I was kind of already aware and ready for it. I just had to sit in the holding room for a minute until the whole trade got finalized. But I am here now and wearing the hat proudly.”
He added that it was a “blessing” that he is headed to the Wizards, a team that made a strong run in the 2015 NBA playoffs.
“I got picked by a team that I never worked out for. I met with them once, and I definitely couldn’t be more happy to be a Washington Wizard. I’m here and I’m ready to start my career,” Oubre said.
The Wizards won 46 games in 2014-2015, and have arguably the best young backcourt in the Eastern Conference with John Wall and Bradley Beal, and another burgeoning young player in small forward Otto Porter Jr., who Oubre is expected to battle for playing time next season. There has been a great deal of optimism surrounding head coach Randy Wittman’s squad entering 2015-2016, and even speculation that Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant might be headed to his hometown as a free agent next summer. Oubre and Durant happen to be friends after Oubre spent two summers at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Washington.
By joining the up-and-coming Wizards, Oubre could be a catalyst off the bench and perhaps even a starter.
“I want to win a championship,” said Oubre, who described himself as a steal in the draft, and credits his defense as a top asset. “I feel like I bring a lot to the table, and I can help my team do so.”
There have been rumblings that veteran and former Jayhawks star Paul Pierce may have played his last game for Washington. With Pierce possibly leaving as a free agent, the Wizards aren’t exactly desperate to inject youth into the roster, but the prospect of pairing Oubre with exciting young guards could mean Verizon Center will be overflowing with energy.
“They have two young stars [Wall and Beal] who are still making their way through the league. I definitely feel like I can learn from them and play with them. We can be successful together,” Oubre said.
Draft night didn’t go as planned for Oubre, and not just because he was traded so quickly. A highly touted star before his freshman season in Kansas, experts projected that he could sneak into a No. 9 or No. 10 pick, though some had him slotted to slip as far down as No. 24. The 6-foot-7 southpaw swingman averaged 9.2 points per game in his one college season, but has been praised for his athleticism, his scoring instincts and his high ceiling.
“My expectation was to go top 10. It doesn’t work out like that for everybody, but I still feel like I am one of the best players in the draft. My confidence is through the roof but I am humble, also. I know I have a lot to work on. And I am ready to work on those things and help my team be the best that we can be. I’ve been through some bumps and bruises in college. I’ll go through some bumps and bruises in the NBA.
“I’m just ready to put this Wizards jersey on and wear it with pride and help this team win.”
Oubre credits the obstacles he encountered as a youth for leading him to the NBA. When Oubre was 9 years old, he and his father left New Orleans in a 2001 Toyota Sequoia before Hurricane Katrina struck, and the family had to be separated.
“My dad decided he was going to keep me in Houston, because they had better resources. By him doing that, it was another sacrifice. He left his job, and we went through a little struggle for a point of time where we lived in hotels and cars.
“If it wasn’t for that time, I wouldn’t be here today because that put a chip on my shoulder. And that allowed me to realize that everything that I have ever loved and had could be gone in a split second.
“My family was moved around. I didn’t see my mom for about two months.”
Not only was Oubre separated from his mother, Tonya, who still lives in New Orleans, but also his then-2-year-old brother Gared, and his older sister Amber, all of whom he maintains a close relationship with. He described the overall experience after Hurricane Katrina as “pretty hectic.”
“I always think about that when I’m on the court. That’s going to be my drive to be the best that I can be. At this next level I feel like I’ve been slept on. I’m ready to wake people up. I’m motivated. I’m a worker and I want to be the best that I can be at the next level.”