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Former Syracuse forward Elijah Hughes is headed to the Utah Jazz after being selected Wednesday as the No. 39 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The New Orleans Pelicans originally held the pick before trading to the Jazz.
Hughes, who entered the draft on March 21, becomes the first SU player selected since 2017 and the 13th former player selected within the past decade. Hughes’ ranking going into the draft fluctuated between late first round and early second, and some analysts labeled him a sleeper pick. One month after declaring, he announced his intention to remain in the draft and officially leave Syracuse.
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That decision started a “weird” road to the draft, with combines and pre-draft workouts canceled due to the coronavirus, he told The Daily Orange in March.
“No one knows what’s going to happen,” Hughes said of the pre-draft process. “It’s kind of a wait and see kind of thing.”
Last season, the Jazz finished 44-28 and were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Playoffs. Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles fill the top of Utah’s shooting guard and small forward depth chart, position spots that Hughes would likely slide into.
Hughes positioned himself as an NBA Draft prospect with SU after transferring from East Carolina and sitting out a year. He started just seven games with the Pirates, averaging 7.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.
After his redshirt year, Hughes entered the Orange’s starting lineup in 2018-19 as a complement to Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett, SU’s two primary options. He averaged 13.7 points per game, primarily serving as a 3-point threat in the corner and scoring a season-high 25 points in Syracuse’s loss to Baylor in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
One year later, after Battle and Brissett both left for the draft, Hughes became Syracuse’s focal point on offense. He averaged 19.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, and his scoring average led the Atlantic Coast Conference and helped him land a first-team all-conference spot.
His road to the draft started with the end of Syracuse’s win against the Tar Heels, and his subsequent decision to leave school a year early. Forty-four seconds after hitting a 3-pointer from the wing, catching a cross-court pass from Quincy Guerrier and swishing his shot, Hughes strolled toward the Syracuse bench. It was the first round of the ACC tournament, and Syracuse had already secured a blowout victory against the Tar Heels.
In a normal season, the Orange would’ve had a game against Louisville the next day, another chance for Hughes to further etch his place in Syracuse history by inching them deeper into the tournament.
But when Guerrier tipped a rebound out of bounds, Hughes subbed out for what would be the final time of his Syracuse career and ended his night with 27 points, leading the Orange that night. He stood at the end of the bench, Gatorade towel wrapped around his neck, watching the walk-ons close SU’s victory.
Eight months later, he sat in Beacon, New York, embraced by his parents as others cheered behind him. Hughes, with the Pelicans’ selection and transfer to the Jazz, had secured his shot in the NBA.
“I really appreciate all the love and support from all friends and family and loved ones!” Hughes tweeted Thursday. “just a kid from BEACON, NY!”
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