Bradley Beal's "extremely difficult decision" to leave Florida after his freshman season paid big dividends Thursday as the guard was selected third overall by the Wizards in the NBA draft.
Only fellow SEC alumni, and freshmen, Anthony Davis (No. 1 to Hornets) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 2 to Bobcats) of Kentucky went ahead of Beal. It's the first time the top three picks have come from the same conference since Brad Daugherty (North Carolina), Len Bias (Maryland) and Chris Washburn (N.C. State) from the ACC went in 1986.
Beal joins a Wizards squad led by former Kentucky point guard John Wall.
"We started to have to fit pieces around John that can make John a better player as well as our team," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said at the draft in Newark, N.J. "The icing on the cake for me was … (Beal) comes from a great family, a strong family. And he's a great character person."
Wall also endorsed Beal.
"So many people wanted to get him, and I'm glad that we had the opportunity to pick him," Wall said. "He's somebody that can make shots, and he helps spread the court for you."
Beal started all 32 games for Florida, averaging 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds in being named first-team All-SEC.
"I think he has the ability to end up being a combo guard," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "He's got NBA range. He's athletic. He's strong. And I think people are going to start to find out all the things I knew when I coached him, all the intangibles things. He's got it all."
Beal also celebrated his 19th birthday on Thursday.
"This is, by far, the best birthday that I've ever had," he said. "This really beats all the presents my mom and dad ever got me."
Beal is the second Gator taken third overall. Al Horford went to Atlanta in 2007. Neal Walk remains the highest drafted Gator, No. 2 to the Suns in 1969.
"It was real tough to give (school) up," Beal said, "but I knew I had to chase my dream."
As expected, the draft started with Davis going to the Hornets. The center will play in the same city where he led Kentucky to the national title in April.
"The first thing I said after (the Hornets won the draft lottery) was it would be great to win another championship in New Orleans," Davis said.
The intrigue started at No. 2. The Bobcats had five offers for the pick, ESPN.com reported Thursday afternoon. Instead, they took Kidd-Gilchrist ("I was shocked when they called my name," the shooting guard said), making Kentucky the first school to have the top two picks.
In 1969, UCLA had Nos. 1 (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and 3 (Lucius Allen). In 2002, Duke had Nos. 2 (Jay Williams) and 3 (Mike Dunleavy). And in 2004, Connecticut had Nos. 2 (Emeka Okafor) and 3 (Ben Gordon).
After Beal, Cleveland took Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters. Power forward Thomas Robinson of Kansas, who hoped to go second, fell to Sacramento at No. 5.
"It is a bit of a surprise," he said. "I didn't work out for Sacramento at all. I probably talked to them about once. But I'm here, so I'm meant to be here."
At No. 19, the Magic took 6-foot-9 St. Bonaventure power forward Andrew Nicholson. As a senior, he averaged 18.5 points and 8.4 rebounds in being named Atlantic 10 player of the year.
"They like my versatility. They like my length and my size," Nicholson told the Orlando Sentinel. "I'm just ready to come in and contribute to the team. I'm very excited right now."
Nicholson also fits the mold of the Magic's outside shooting big men, having shot 43 percent on 3-pointers last season.
"He's a humble, high-character player who's committed to working hard and playing within a team concept," general manager Rob Hennigan said in a statement released by the team. "We're intrigued by his cerebral, instinctual approach to the game."
With its other pick, No. 49, the Magic took Norfolk State power forward Kyle O'Quinn. The 6-10, 240-pounder burst onto the national scene in March, when he recorded 26 points and 14 rebounds to lead the No. 15 seed Spartans past No. 2 seed Missouri in the NCAA Tournament.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.