ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)(EDITOR’S NOTE – Orlando Magic rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Paolo Banchero is doing a periodic diary with The Associated Press this season to chronicle his first year in the NBA. This is his fifth installment, where he discusses how this time of year – March Madness in college basketball – has him thinking about last year when he was at Duke and playing for Mike Krzyzewski.)
Watching all the conference tournaments, as college basketball gets into tournament time, and Selection Sunday had me obviously realizing how much everything has changed in the last 12 months.
This time last year, for me, was kind of life-altering just with the amount of attention that was on us, on me, on Duke, playing for Coach K, and then it kept growing because we were winning and making a run. It was magical. It obviously didn’t end how we wanted it to, but just getting there and the way we got there and how we did it, it was awesome. Looking back now, life has definitely changed a lot since then.
But I also get that same feeling now.
We still have a chance and that’s motivating for us. That’s where we want to get to. That’s where we want to be. Obviously, we’ve got some work to do to get there. But whether we get there or we don’t, we’re going to finish these last games the best we can. We’re keeping that hope and sticking to what we know, because you never know when you can go on a six-game winning streak.
Last year at this time, a six-game winning streak would have gotten us the national championship. I’m super thankful I had the college experience for a year. I mean, not only the stuff I learned, but also the relationships I built and just the fact that I can say that I attended Duke, I played for Coach K, I did these things at Duke, that I’m part of this history and whatnot, how my picture up on the wall over there now and stuff like that. I think all that is priceless. People don’t think about stuff like that, or they don’t know what it’s like being able to go to there and see my picture up alongside other guys. That’s crazy for me. I remember taking my visit and wanting to be on that wall. So now that it’s happened, it makes it all worth it that I was able to go there and do what I did.
What we’ve done here to have a chance has also been worth it. It’s my first year with the Magic. A lot of guys in here are young. We’re all young. It’s late in the season and we’re playing games that matter. So, it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t happen for us this year. That would just mean next year we’re going to have even more expectations and more people are going to expect us to win and we’re going to expect to win. That’s what, I think, excites us and motivates us – where we are, what we can be and where we’re trying to get to. I think this year has been a great start and we’re definitely on the up and up. Whether we make it or we don’t, we’re going to be locked in this offseason and trying to work and build to get to where we want to, which is being a perennial playoff team and contender in the East.
I get asked about Rookie of the Year a lot. It definitely matters to me. That was a goal I set before I even got to the NBA, to win that award. So, it definitely matters, but I wouldn’t say think about it too often.
Anyone that knows me knows I try to always put the team first and winning first. I’ve done that my whole life and things have always just taken care of themselves. Did it at Duke; I wasn’t playing to be the No. 1 pick, I was playing to win the national championship. Same thing here. I’m playing for wins. I think when you get caught up in awards and accolades and try and start playing for that, that’s when you lose the fun in the game.
I’ve always done it the same way. I play as hard as I can. That’s always taken me as far as I’ve wanted to go. I’ll stick to that. I’m going to play hard these last games and we’ll see what happens.
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