Who could blame them?
After a difficult season in which the Huskies fell short of expectations and headlines focused on past academic problems more than basketball, Drummond and Lamb gave UConn fans a reason for tremendous pride as both became lottery picks and were among the first 12 selections in the draft.
Drummond, the first one-and-done player in UConn history, dropped slightly lower than expected but was taken by the Detroit Pistons with the No. 9 pick. Lamb followed closely behind, pulling on the cap of the Houston Rockets as the No. 12 pick.
When Drummond arrived in New York for media day on Wednesday, he had worked out for Charlotte, Washington, Cleveland, Sacramento and Portland. All five passed on the 6-10 center from Middletown, as did Golden State and Toronto with the No. 7 and No. 8 picks.
Even though Drummond said he expected to go between No. 2 and No. 7, it turned out the Pistons were in the process of providing him a backup plan. Joe Dumars, former Pistons great and now Detroit's president of basketball operations, flew to New York with personnel director George David Tuesday night and found a gym on 61st Street. They put Drummond through a 45-minute workout and followed that up with a 45-minute conversation.
"I talked to Detroit; I actually worked out with them the day before the draft and they told me they liked me a lot and if I was still there, they would definitely take me," Drummond said. "The eighth pick went by and they were right up. I just broke down in tears because I knew I was going to get called next.
"I'm speechless really. It's a great opportunity for me. It's a dream come true. Growing up as a little kid [dreaming of] hearing my name being called and shaking David Stern's hand."
Lamb, a 6-5 shooting guard who played two seasons at UConn, struggled through workouts after turning an ankle early in the process in Toronto. But it was a last-minute stop at Houston that paid off. After a workout with Milwaukee on Tuesday, Lamb was called to Houston for the Rockets and coach Kevin McHale to take a look.
"When I left the meeting, I had no idea," Lamb said. "I thought we did have a good meeting though. You know, it was tough with the ankle. But I think it was almost a good thing, because people try to doubt my heart, doubt my competitiveness, and the whole time I competed when I was working out on a bad ankle. It just showed my competitiveness and that I always want to push myself."
The scene in the "green room" reflected just how much stress Drummond, Lamb and the other players were feeling on this important night in their lives. Drummond's work ethic has been questioned repeatedly. He answered that issue by telling reporters there is nothing wrong with his motor and he plans to work hard at his new job.
Even so, as Drummond waited, the question became how far he would drop.
"Doesn't matter wherever you go – one, two, three, four, five on the list; whenever I go, I'm going to work my hardest," Drummond said.
Drummond's mother, Christine Cameron, was at the waiting room table with him. Drummond's sister, Ariana, and mother plan on moving to Detroit with the 18-year-old athletic big man. Draft night was symbolic of the journey this family is about to begin.
"It's just a sign of relief," Drummond said of his exhibition of emotion. "My mom was holding my hand throughout the whole draft. She was like, ‘We're here, be patient, your name is going to be called soon. As soon as Toronto went by and Detroit came up, I started breaking down because I thought about all of the years I worked hard and all of the struggles I went through playing basketball.
"Just being here today, hearing my name being called, is the greatest thing in the world."
|Commissioner Stern welcomes Drummond to the league (US PRESSWIRE)|
Former UConn forward Charlie Villanueva is on the Detroit roster, along with guard Brandon Knight, forward Tayshaun Prince and center Greg Monroe. It's possible the Pistons will put Monroe, the former Georgetown center, and Drummond on the court together.
"I know we'll build a great team chemistry right away," Drummond said. "Wherever Coach [Lawrence Frank] puts me is wherever I'm going to work my hardest at."
The front page of the Pistons web site already carried a "Welcome to Detroit" message to Drummond on Thursday night.
"When we came out of the Chicago pre-draft camp, he was one of the players we met with," Dumars told Pistons.com. "When he left the room, we all looked around and said, ‘Well, that's the last time we see him.' I've been saying that for three straight years [with Monroe, Knight and now Drummond], but – really – this guy wasn't supposed to be there at nine, for real this time."
Dumars said he has already talked to Monroe, 22, about taking Drummond under his wing.
"He has an NBA-ready body," Dumars said of Drummond. "He's a young, raw kid on the offensive end, so the advantage for him right now is defense, rebounding and blocking shots."
McHale, a Hall of Famer who knows a thing about talent, seemed equally enthusiastic about drafting Lamb.
"I'm a big fan of Lamb," McHale said during ESPN's broadcast of the draft. "I just think he can score the ball. He's got good length. He's got good size. He needs to get a little stronger but I really like his game. He was a guy at UConn that filled it up. Scoring in our league comes at a premium."
Ironically, the Rockets also drafted Iowa State's Royce White, who helped eliminate UConn in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament after Lamb helped the Huskies win the 2011 national championship. White went No. 16 overall and Kentucky's Terrence Jones went to Houston with the No. 18 pick.
"I think we had a great draft," McHale said. The Rockets web site referred to the three first round picks with this headline: "Rockets Score Draft Night Hat Trick."
Courtney Lee and Kevin Martin are the shooting guards on the Rockets roster that Lamb will compete against.
"I am ready to go work hard," Lamb said. "I'm not saying I'm going to go take their minutes, but I'm not going to go and settle. I'm going to go there and be ready to work hard and do what it takes.
"I can stretch the floor. I can add scoring and [help] on the defensive end, on the rebound, getting deflections and getting on the break."
Since Jim Calhoun became coach at UConn in 1986, the program has now produced 18 first-round picks and 13 lottery picks. Drummond and Lamb become the third UConn duo to be lottery picks in the same draft. Emeka Okafor (No. 2 pick) and Ben Gordon (No. 3) did it in 2004. Rudy Gay (No. 8) and Hilton Armstrong (No. 12) were lottery choices in 2006.
Drummond's No. 9 selection matched the spot where Charlotte picked Kemba Walker in the 2011 draft.
"Coach Calhoun was a tough coach to play for, but a great coach to play for," Lamb said. "When I was struggling, Coach always believed in me. You know, he was always in my head. He got me mentally tough. He pushed me to the limit. When I thought I was working hard, he showed me that I wasn't. He always told me I wasn't.
"My freshman year, I got to play with Kemba Walker, a great point guard. And I learned a lot from him. So my whole time at UConn was a huge learning experience and a time for me to get tougher."