Chris Carrawell didn’t need a lot of time to recognize Paolo Banchero’s talent.
Carrawell, an assistant coach at Duke since 2018 who played for the Blue Devils from 1996-2000, remembers seeing him briefly in the summer of 2019 while he was playing for the Seattle Rotary in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.
He knew Banchero was talented based on the highlights he saw and because Duke was recruiting him.
Once Banchero enrolled at Duke in the summer of 2021 and started practicing, Carrawell saw why Banchero was a consensus top-four prospect in his high school graduating class.
“I’m an old-school cat,” Carrawell told the Orlando Sentinel. “I watch how guys are in one-on-ones. Paolo, when you watch him play one-on-one, he got it. You see the ability to create the shot at that size. You put a smaller guy on him, he’s taking them to the post. You want to put a bigger guy on him, he’s taking them off the dribble. He can play off the elbow. When we’d have competition in practices or after practice, most of the time he was winning the 1s. Throw that into the team setting, he plays team basketball, but when you need a bucket he can get you a bucket.”
Banchero needed even less time to show why he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft — which came to fruition in June when the Orlando Magic selected him.
Banchero’s 22-point, 7-rebound college debut in a neutral site win over Kentucky and 21 points and 5 rebounds in a win over Gonzaga two weeks later were moments Carrawell knew Banchero was “different” than his peers.
“It’s the way he was doing it,” Carrawell said. “Pushing in transition, shooting 3s, the one-on-ones, shooting off the dribble, midrange, catch-and-shoot, finish at the rim — everybody’s watching these games. He was never scared of the moment.
“He gets it done. Some dudes you just know the way they move their bodies. The handle at that size. You just know guys who are different. He’s different.”
That “different” is why the Magic drafted Banchero, who’ll make his regular-season debut against the Pistons on Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
That “different” is Banchero having the skillset for a go-to offensive option in his draft class, something the Magic have lacked for the past decade since Dwight Howard’s departure.
Orlando’s not putting that pressure on Banchero — at least not from Day One.
Unlike many teams who draft at No. 1, the Magic already had a young core full of potential in place. They have 11 players who were first-round picks since 2017 on their roster, including seven lottery picks.
Banchero could be the final major piece of the puzzle to take Orlando’s rebuild to the next level.
“That’s the great part about this team — we talk about doing it by committee,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “Yes, he’s the No. 1 pick and there’s a lot surrounding that. The great part of the team we have around him is that Markelle [Fultz] has been the No. 1 pick [in 2017], Jalen [Suggs] was the fifth pick [last year], Franz [Wagner] has felt and experienced it.
“You’re not saying put it all on [his] shoulders as a 19-year-old. You say how does [he] best fit into this group that they all understand how good you can be and they’ll help you walk into that.”
Even if he isn’t being viewed as the savior of a franchise that’s finished with more wins than losses just once since 2012, being the accelerator to a rebuild comes with external expectations and pressure — both of which Banchero’s familiar with and embraces.
Being a 5-star playing at Duke — during Krzyzewski’s final season no less — will do that for a player. He has the phrase “kNOw pressure” tattooed on his lower right arm.
Several people around the Magic have raved about Banchero’s maturity and ability to stay even-keeled.
“I just felt like at this point I’ve gotten past it,” Banchero said. “The NBA is so many games, so if you put that amount of pressure on yourself every game you’re going to have 80-plus games of being stressed out and feeling pressured. It’s too many games to worry about that stuff. Whether you play good or bad, move on to the next one.”
Banchero grew throughout five preseason exhibitions, leading the team in scoring (14 points — 45.1% shooting from the field, 27.3% on 3s) to go with 5.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals in 24.2 minutes.
He demonstrated greater comfort in at least one area every game — running pick-and-rolls, playing alongside Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr., figuring out when to pass vs. creating a shot for himself and the timing of defensive rotations.
Banchero averaged 17.7 points (52.9% from the field — 37.5% on 3s) and 6.3 rebounds in the final three preseason games.
“Every game, I’ve made a step in some type of way,” he said, “continuing to build off that and get more comfortable.”
Whether Banchero will live up to the long-term expectations of a No. 1 pick won’t be answered immediately. No. 1 picks who’ve made All-NBA or All-Star teams typically do so during their second or third season.
“He’s 19 years old,” Carrawell said. “He’s still learning his body. By the time he’s 23, he’s got a chance to be big-time. I can’t say if in 10 years he’s going to be the best player in his draft class but I know right now he’s the best player. And I know he’s the [most complete] player. IQ, passing, handle, shot creation, all of the intangibles, great teammate, skill level — he can do everything.”
Banchero has similar confidence in himself as Carrawell and the Magic have in him. It’s why he isn’t shying from the expectations.
“I just feel like I’m that level of player,” he said. “None of this was done by mistake. That’s the level I feel like I’m at. I feel like I’m one of the best players in the world regardless of age or classification.
“When I’m at my best, there are not a lot of people better. That’s the confidence I have.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.