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Noting the Hornets’ draft options at 11, the Olympians from Charlotte and much more

The Charlotte Hornets need another talented big man.

It was their most aching and obvious requirement last season, which began with such promise and ended with such disappointment.

With the No. 11 overall pick, you might think that the Hornets could solve that problem. Here’s the issue, though — the NBA draft doesn’t have a lot of capable big men up top.

I was talking to a veteran NBA scout this week. He said the draft market for 4s and 5s was pretty lean outside of 7-foot Southern Cal center Evan Mobley, who should be gone in the top four picks and maybe will go No. 2 behind Oklahoma State point guard Cade Cunningham.

At 11, if you go big, you are either going to go with an international big man like 18-year-old Alperen Sengun of Turkey or a project like Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson. I think the Hornets’ better bet is to grab another wing in the draft, like Duke’s Jalen Johnson, Arkansas’ Moses Moody or Tennessee’s Keon Johnson (who recently set a vertical-jump record at the scouting combine by leaping 48 inches) and then use NBA free agency to rebuild the center position. The NBA draft is July 29th, while free agency opens Aug. 2nd.

Isaiah Jackson Kentucky basketball
Kentucky big man Isaiah Jackson could be a contender for the Charlotte Hornets to choose with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft. Lexington Herald-Leader

Charlotte athletes in the Tokyo Olympics

After a year-long, COVID-induced delay, the Olympics are almost here. The Opening Ceremonies in Tokyo are scheduled for July 23rd. The Queen City connections to these Games will include weightlifter Caine Wilkes, 17-year-old whitewater sensation Evy Leibfarth and former Hough High star swimmer Erika Brown.

Wilkes’ weightlifting competition — three snatches, three clean and jerks — takes place in a single day. Leibfarth, who trains at Charlotte’s U.S. National Whitewater Center, will compete in both a kayak and a canoe. Brown, who went to college at Tennessee, will also compete over multiple days in two events — the 100 freestyle and the 4×100 freestyle relay — by virtue of her second-place finish in the 100 free at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Missing our late colleagues, especially during NBA playoffs

Several times during these crowd-pleasing NBA playoffs I have found myself picking up my phone to text Rick Bonnell to connect about something extraordinary that Devin Booker or Trae Young did. Once I even began writing the text before remembering what happened.

All of us at The Charlotte Observer miss Rick and our photographer David Foster so much; our two colleagues died unexpectedly of natural causes within eight days of each other. Foster was 52. Bonnell was 63. It’s been several weeks now since their deaths, but man. It’s still really tough.

Jay Triano and the ‘Valley-Oop’

Jay Triano, now an assistant coach with the Charlotte Hornets, indirectly had a hand on “Valley-Oop” — the play that Phoenix used to free DeAndre Ayton for a game-winning dunk in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

Triano called a similar play when he was interim coach for the Suns in 2017, and Tyson Chandler scored on a dunk, also taking advantage of the obscure rule that there can’t be a goaltending call on an inbounds pass. That play was referenced by Phoenix coach Monty Williams after the game as an inspiration for the call that got Ayton the dunk.

Summer sports reading ideas

Want some summer reading? Here are a couple of book recommendations.

“Glory Days” is a remarkably entertaining chronicle of the seminal summer of 1984 by one of the best sportswriters working today — Sports Illustrated’s L. Jon Wertheim. And what a year 1984 was: Jordan, Bird, Magic, Gretzky, Mary Lou Retton, McEnroe, Navratilova, the L.A. Olympics, “The Karate Kid,” Springsteen, Prince and many more. Whether you remember that summer or not, this book is very hard to put down.

“His Field, Our Dreams” is a book about the remarkable impact of Joe Ferebee, Pfeiffer’s legendary baseball coach. More than 60 people contributed their own remembrances of Ferebee, who also was a Navy veteran and a longtime American Legion baseball coach. Ferebee died at age 101 in 2020.

Another recommendation for you: The Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in Charlotte is spectacular and is in Charlotte all summer at Camp North End. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and so did my Mom.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. Fowler has won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing and has earned 15 national APSE awards. He hosted The Observer’s 8-part podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named 2018’s “Podcast of the Year.”
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