Sandro Mamukelashvili became Seton Hall’s latest NBA Draft pick Thursday night when the Georgia native was selected by the Indiana Pacers in second round. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
Growing up in his native Georgia, Sandro Mamukelashvili emulated fellow countryman Zaza Pachulia, who played 16 seasons in the NBA. During his four years at Seton Hall, Mamukelashvili spoke frequently and openly about wanting to imprint his homeland indelibly across the basketball landscape, while at the same time furthering his own professional aspirations that were forged amid a backdrop of political and social unrest before being cultivated both overseas and on American soil.
The Haggerty Award winner and Big East Conference Co-Player of the Year last season as a senior at Seton Hall, Mamukelashvili’s dream became a reality Thursday, when the 6-foot-10 point forward was selected by the Indiana Pacers with the 54th overall pick in the NBA Draft, with his rights subsequently traded to the newly crowned NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks, affording him the opportunity to learn from one of the game’s best players in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Mamukelashvili, who averaged 17.5 points per game in his final year in South Orange, becomes the second NBA draft pick developed by Pirates head coach Kevin Willard, joining Isaiah Whitehead, who was selected by the Utah Jazz in 2016 before being traded to his hometown Brooklyn Nets. The flight of his professional career fulfills a destiny that was evident to anyone who saw the big man’s burgeoning skill set and ability to facilitate even without the basketball in his hands.
“What I bring to the table, not a lot of big guys can bring,” Mamukelashvili said in a postseason availability this past April when asked how he would evaluate his own game, crediting the entire Seton Hall roster for his development. “I’d never be where I am right now without my teammates. I’m thankful they just believed in me to give me the green light.”
“Sandro’s been a warrior,” Willard said of his four-year stalwart. “I really believe he’s got another level that he’s going to play at. There’s times where I think he gets a little ahead of himself, but I think once he realizes the speed that he needs to play with at times, you’re going to see him take another jump. The great thing about Sandro is he can bring it up and he can create, and when he gets a head of steam downhill, he’s really tough. I think he’s just growing into that player I knew he would be.”
When he suits up for the first time, Mamukelashvili will join Goga Bitadze of the Indiana Pacers as the only Georgians currently in the NBA, and just the seventh from the former Soviet republic in NBA history.
“I came in with him,” Seton Hall guard Myles Cale said of Mamukelashvili’s evolution after the Pirates’ December victory against St. John’s. “You just see how his game patterns, how much confidence he’s getting, it’s just crazy to me. It feels good, I’m happy for him. Having Sandro as a four man, a point forward who can handle the ball, it’s a weapon that every other team doesn’t have.”
“I want to be the guy the younger guys can rely on,” Mamukelashvili remarked, displaying a fervent desire to be a leader and sounding board. “My killer instinct started in Georgia. The only good players we really had were Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Zaza Pachulia. I just want to put my country on the map.”