KNOXVILLE — Jordan McRae didn’t touch the cake.
The congratulatory dessert purchased for the NBA draft watch party in Midway, Ga., grew smaller as Thursday evening wore on. While family and friends of the former Tennessee shooting guard grew hungry, McRae’s stomach remained knotted.
“I couldn’t really eat anything,” he said in a telephone interview early Friday morning.
McRae followed along as the Utah Jazz selected former Volunteers teammate Jarnell Stokes 35th overall and promptly traded the power forward to the Memphis Grizzlies, Stokes’ hometown team. McRae posted a congratulatory message to Twitter, then waited.
As the remaining selections grew fewer, it appeared unlikely Tennessee would land multiple players in the same draft for the 10th time in school history. Then McRae’s name was called. He went to the wire, then to confusion.
The NBA champion San Antonio Spurs selected him 58th overall, the second-to-last pick in the draft. Shortly after, Yahoo! Sports reported McRae would be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. When McRae spoke to the News Sentinel around 12:30 a.m. Friday, he still wasn’t sure which team he would play for.
“I have to call my agent and figure things out,” he said.
Later, he posted “76ers!!!!!” to his Twitter account and the Sixers revealed their final flurry of moves.
The team acquired the rights to McRae and former Baylor forward Cory Jefferson, the 60th overall pick, from the Spurs in exchange for Nemaja Dangubic, a Serbian forward Philadelphia selected 54th overall. The Sixers then traded Jefferson to the Brooklyn Nets.
McRae, however, will be bound for summer league in Philadelphia barring another trade. He worked out for the Sixers on June 1.
By the time the dust settled on McCrae’s immediate future, Memphis general manager Chris Wallace had told reporters how his team navigated its own trade to land Stokes, who worked out in Memphis on June 9.
Wallace said the All-SEC forward was close to becoming the Grizzlies’ first pick, 22nd overall. Instead the team took UCLA shooting guard Jordan Adams and hoped for a second shot at Stokes. Memphis swapped a second-round pick in 2016 with Utah to make Stokes the first former Vol to play for the Grizzlies.
“We chased him the rest of the draft, offering situations and goodies for these teams in the late first round,” Wallace said. “We couldn’t make a deal and chased him all the way to Utah at 35. … Fortunately, we found a partner, and he was our guy. We are thrilled to have him, because he is a power player, a rebounder. I’m not saying that’s all he can do. But just that aspect, we have lost games to guys like that in the past.”
Stokes and McRae became UT’s 44th and 45th NBA draft picks. They are the first duo to accomplish the feat in the same draft since Marcus Haislip (13th overall) and Cleveland’s Vincent Yarbrough (33rd) were selected in 2002.
Former Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, now at the University of California, was proud from afar.
“I’m so happy for Jordan and Jarnell,” he told the News Sentinel in a text message. “Two high-character guys that worked extremely hard to put themselves in a position to make their dreams a reality.”
McRae said no to cake Thursday night. But he eventually got to celebrate. Before he confirmed which team was his, he admitted it was OK not knowing right away. Getting drafted was good enough.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” he said. “Everybody wants to hear your name called.”