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Last updated: Fri. Jun. 27, 2014 - 07:06 am EDT

Noah Vonleh to join Zeller in Charlotte

Ex-Hoosier was the No. 9 NBA pick

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For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

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Yes, Noah Vonleh wasn't the top-5 NBA draft pick experts predicted.

Yes, it probably cost the former Indiana standout about $3 million in his first two seasons.

But then, when you're 18 years old and set to make a total of $4.3 million in the next two years from the Charlotte Hornets, with an option to make another $2.3 million in your third year, and an option to make $2.9 in your fourth year, and then $3.5 million in your fifth, does that really matter?

Not, it seems, to Vonleh, who tweeted his enthusiasm Thursday night over his No. 9 overall selection while posting a self photo wearing a blue-and-white Charlotte jacket:

“@starter jacket on! We made it! Hello Charlotte @hornets!!”

Welcome to the NBA world of a lottery pick. The Hornets took him, just as they took former Hoosier Cody Zeller with last year's No. 4 pick.

Vonleh was in New York City for the draft, and told the media there that, “I talked to Cody a little bit during the season and a little bit as I was getting into the process of deciding to come out for the draft. He gave me some pointers about the league. That really helped out a lot. Now that I'm there in Charlotte with him, we'll have a better relationship.”

Vonleh is Indiana's 23rd first-round pick, its 14th top-10 pick and its third in the last two years (joining Zeller and Victor Oladipo, who went No. 2 with Orlando last season).

Early projections had Vonleh going as high as No. 3 with Philadelphia. But the 76ers chose Kansas center Joel Embiid, despite his foot injury that left some experts wondering if he was damaged goods in the manner oft-injured Greg Oden.

Then Orlando drafted Arizona forward Aaron Gordon with the No. 4 pick followed by Utah (Australia guard Dante Exum), Boston (Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart), the Los Angeles Lakers (Kentucky forward Julius Randle) and Sacramento (Michigan guard Nik Stauskas).

Then came Charlotte, which had an inside need after forward Josh McRoberts opted out of his contract earlier this month. McRoberts could still re-sign with the Hornets, but Vonleh gives them inside options. He's likely to play next to forward Al Jefferson, an All-NBA player this past season after averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds. Vonleh fits coach Steve Clifford's preference for more size.

“I can step out and hit some 3s. Play well in the pick-and-roll and defend pretty well,” Vonleh said during a conference call.

“Growing up I was real versatile. They played me as a point-forward all through high school. I didn’t get to do too much of that in college. But handling the ball is something I have always been able to do, and hope to do at the next level.”

Zeller tweeted this thoughts on Vonleh's selection.

"Welcome to Charlotte Noah Vonleh!" Zeller posted. "That flight from Indianapolis to Charlotte is only an hour and a half for all you IU fans."

The 6-10, 247-pound Vonleh generated plenty of draft buzz in the last month. Scouts were impressed with the fact he had the biggest hands of anyone at the NBA Combine (11 -inch wide and 9 -inch long), along with big legs, a 7-foot-4 wingspan and a 37-inch vertical jump.

Vonleh made a huge impact in his one season at Indiana. He won Big Ten freshman of the year honors while averaging 11.3 points and a conference-leading 9.0 rebounds despite the Hoosiers' well-documented struggles in getting him the ball. He shot 48.5 percent from three-point range, and 52.3 percent overall. He ranked 12th nationally in defensive rebounding rate (27.3 percent).

Some recruiting experts compared him to Miami forward Chris Bosh as far as his perimeter shooting and ability to defend the pick and roll, and the post.

Vonleh credited IU coach Tom Crean for his college improvement.

“He helped a lot,” Vonleh said in a university release. “He pushed me every day in practice and taught me to stay focused and put in the extra work after practice."

Since 2006, Charlotte has had eight lottery picks, but none have earned All-Star recognition.

This past season, as McRobert's back-up, Zeller averaged 6.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while struggling against NBA-caliber size and strength. However, he showed major improvement in the final two months of the season and was named second-team all-rookie.

With the No. 24 pick in the first round the Hornets took Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier, who helped the Huskies win the national championship last spring. Charlotte then traded Napier to Miami for the No. 26 and No. 55 picks, plus a future second-round pick, ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst reported. The No. 26 pick was former North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston.

Charlotte entered the draft needing a shooter and a backup point guard. While Vonleh isn't considered a game-breaking shooter in the manner of, say, Creighton's Doug McDermott, his Indiana production suggested a high ceiling in that area.

The Hornets made the NBA playoffs this season with a 43-39 record, but were swept by Miami in the first round.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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