For as long as he can remember, Marreese Speights dreamed about playing in the NBA, but he never really imagined it would ever happen.
So when NBA commissioner David Stern announced the Florida forward/center as the No. 16 pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in Thursday's NBA draft, the reality nearly overwhelmed him.
"It was the best thing ever," Speights said from grandmother's house in St. Petersburg about a half hour after his selection. "Something goes through you when you hear your name called. I can't even explain it. It was crazy, so many people were here, I spent like 10 minutes by myself just trying to get myself together. But once I saw my mom and my sister crying, I just couldn't hold it anymore. I started crying."
Speights, 20, was among a handful of big men taken in the first 16 picks, including UCLA's Kevin Love and Stanford brothers Brook and Robin Lopez.
"From a talent standpoint, he's just about up there with any big man in this draft," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said.
For Regina Glenn-Speights, Thursday was the culmination of years of driving her youngest son to football and basketball practices and games, while raising four children as a single mother.
"It's overwhelming," said Glenn-Speights, who thought her son was a first-round pick but didn't believe he would go so high. "The Lord has blessed us. I've been struggling all my life, but I'd do it all over again if it would end up like this. It's a blessing. He has worked so hard ever since he was 7 years old."
Speights is the first Gator ever drafted by Philadelphia, and the seventh-highest pick in school history. He is the fourth first-round pick from Florida in the past two years (Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah).
Speights' first-round selection came after spending just two seasons with the Gators, only one with significant playing time.
"Last summer, nobody would have thought he would be a first-round NBA draft pick," said Matt Ramker, Speights' former AAU coach. "He worked really hard this year, got himself in great shape and did what he needed to do. … If he has the right frame of mind going into Philadelphia, he's going to be a player in the NBA for years to come."
Speights will leave for Philadelphia this morning and is joining a team with young talent but in need of frontcourt help.
"I'm going to do whatever they want me to do, and I think I can help the team out my first year," Speights said.
Rose over Beasley
NEW YORK — Derrick Rose is going home. The Bulls selected Rose, who grew up on the city's South Side, with the No. 1 pick, choosing the Memphis guard over Kansas State forward Michael Beasley.
With Beasley going second to Miami and Minnesota picking Southern Cal's O.J. Mayo third, college freshmen made up the first three picks for the first time.
"We all grew up together, and we all grew up playing against each other and we all made a pact together that we would all be here," Beasley said. "Just to see it all fall into place and see it all happen is kind of crazy."
Rose led the Tigers to the national title game. The Bulls opted for the point guard's playmaking ability over the scoring and rebounding of Beasley, who ranked in the top three in the nation in both categories.
The 6-foot-3 Rose put on a Bulls cap, hugged supporters, including Memphis coach John Calipari, and shook hands with Beasley before taking the stage.
"I was a little nervous when they came back out, but I always had that in mind that I want to be No. 1," Rose said. "So it was great hearing my name."
Thursday's draft was the first with three college freshmen going in the top three spots.
Then it was first where five of the first seven were freshmen. Then the first where seven freshmen went in the lottery portion (top 14 picks). All NBA records.
Rider's Jason Thompson was the first senior taken, by the Kings at No. 12. Ten freshman went in the first round and 12 overall.
Deals of note
Pacers trade O'Neal: The Pacers traded six-time All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal to the Raptors for point guard T.J. Ford, center Rasho Nesterovic, the 17th pick (Georgetown's Roy Hibbert) and a player to be determined. A deal can't be finalized until July 1, when Ford's base-year compensation tag comes off the books.
During the first round, the busy Pacers traded their first-round pick, Jerryd Bayless, and forward Ike Diogu to the Blazers for No. 13 pick Brandon Rush, Jarrett Jack and Josh McRoberts.
Hornets-Blazers: Darrell Arthur of Kansas was the final player in the green room, lasting until the 27th spot, where New Orleans grabbed him. The Hornets had agreed to send his rights to Portland for cash in a deal that is awaiting league approval.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.