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USC, UCLA make a strong showing.

NBA DRAFT

The Trojans' DeMar DeRozan and Taj Gibson and the Bruins' Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison go in the first round.

June 26, 2009|David Wharton

Not that DeMar DeRozan is an expert on the city of Toronto, but a recent visit left him impressed.

"I was up there about a day and a half, great town, ate, saw the city and it was beautiful," he said. "It reminded me of a mini-New York."

Now he'll get a chance to know it a lot better.

As the ninth pick in the NBA draft Thursday night, DeRozan is headed north of the border to play for the Raptors, part of a recent tradition that has turned the first round into a decidedly Southern California happening.

About an hour after DeRozan walked onstage to shake NBA Commissioner David Stern's hand, UCLA freshman Jrue Holiday was selected 17th by the Philadelphia 76ers, followed shortly thereafter by teammate Darren Collison, who went to the New Orleans Hornets at No. 21.

The Chicago Bulls took USC forward Taj Gibson at No. 26.

For the Bruins, it marked six first-round picks in the last four years, tops for any college program in the nation.

Coach Ben Howland responded to that statistic in two ways, calling it both "pretty neat" and "ridiculous."

"I'm really happy for both these kids," he said of Holiday and Collison.

The Bruins and the Trojans weren't the only local schools supplying fresh blood to the NBA.

The first 30 picks included James Harden, a Lakewood Artesia High alumnus by way of Arizona State; Austin Daye from Woodbridge Irvine High and Gonzaga; and Brandon Jennings, the 19-year-old from Compton Dominguez High who played in Europe.

But -- locally, at least -- most of the attention focused on the two freshmen who made quick exits from the college ranks.

DeRozan, who came into his own late in the season and was the Pacific 10 tournament's most valuable player, saw his decision quickly rewarded.

"It's crazy just to hear your name called in the top 10," he said. "It's a wonderful feeling."

A feeling that Holiday missed out on.

After averaging 8.5 points and 3.7 assists last season, the UCLA guard said he would jump to the pros only as a lottery pick, something he felt confident about as recently as a few weeks ago.

But as Thursday night progressed, Holiday was left as the last player in the green room. The drop means he will make $2.61 million in guaranteed salary, about $500,000 less than the 14th and final lottery pick.

Though the wait induced "a lot of anxiety," Holiday said he was happy to be joining Philadelphia, where veteran guard Andre Miller is an unrestricted free agent.

"They're a young team, they definitely get up and down," he said. "It definitely fits my description, an up-and-down point guard who loves to run, loves to pass."

He follows in the footsteps of UCLA alums Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, both of whom were picked in the first round last year. The previous seasons it was Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo.

USC is on a three-season streak, with DeRozan following O.J. Mayo and Nick Young.

Though Collison and Gibson had to wait until the later stages of the first round, they might have enjoyed the best night in terms of exceeding expectations.

Collison, in particular, knew that New Orleans was interested but did not think the Hornets would pick him so high. He enters seemingly perfect circumstances, backing up Chris Paul. There won't be as much pressure to produce while he learns from Coach Byron Scott and one of the best point guards in the game.

"It's a great situation," Collison said. "The draft board went exactly how I wanted it to go."

The outlook seems equally rosy for DeRozan, who might have gotten a hint about Toronto's intentions earlier in the day, when he saw Raptors forward Chris Bosh in the hotel lobby.

"I think he knew something but he didn't want to give it away," DeRozan said.

Now comes a relocation to a city that appears to suit him just fine.

"You know," he said, "I think I can fit in great."

Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this story

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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