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Too much pressure? Cavs draft pick Collin Sexton not worried about filling Kyrie Irving's shoes

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    Alabama guard Collin Sexton dunks during a game against Florida in February. The Cavs draft pick led the Tide to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.



INDEPENDENCE — General manager Koby Altman and coach Tyronn Lue presented Collin Sexton with a No. 2 Cavaliers jersey Friday afternoon during an introductory news conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts.

The last person to wear that number for the Cavs, of course, was Kyrie Irving, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals but angered many in Northeast Ohio when he asked to be traded — he eventually was dealt to the Boston Celtics — prior to last season.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Sexton, a point guard who wore No. 2 as an Alabama freshman and was chosen by the Cavs with the eighth pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday, said “absolutely not” when asked if felt any pressure to live up to Irving’s accomplishments.

“Coming in, I’m going to set goals for myself as well as team goals that we’ll set,” the 19-year-old said.

“I’m not going to have to live up to anybody’s shoes. I’m going to learn and be the best player I can be.”

Altman and Lue heaped praise on Sexton throughout a news conference that was filled with platitudes and cliches but short on substance, as most day-after-draft proceedings usually are.

“I’ve seen Collin grow as a player,” Lue said. “He exemplifies hard work and dedication. When you look at him two years ago, he wasn’t on the circuit as being one of the top players in the country, but he continued to work and continued to dedicate himself to the game of basketball, and look where he’s at today? A lottery pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“When you have a guy like this, the kind of story that he has to get here and his path to get here, it’s unbelievable. When you have guys who work as hard as Collin does to get where he wants to get, those are the guys you want on your team.”

Said Altman: “We want to bring in guys with great attitude, great work ethic and, most important, guys who really want to be here. I think Collin embodies all of that.”

“First and foremost, we want to compete at the highest level,” the GM added. “Winning championships is still our goal and will always be our goal. But through that process, we wanted to focus on long-term success, sustainability.

“Going through this year, we were able to get younger ... and have some real momentum going into the future. We knew this pick was going to be a big part of that plan. It’s not a pick anymore. It is Collin Sexton.”

That all sounds good, but the fact remains the Cavs aren’t going to compete for a championship anytime soon if LeBron James departs through free agency.

In fairness to the Cavs, though, they had to take a player they felt could help them regardless of what James decides to do. They’re confident they found that in Sexton, who they hope can combine with guys like Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic and perhaps restricted free agent Rodney Hood to give them some much-needed athleticism.

“For the first time in a long time, we’re going to be in the player development business,” Altman said. “We’re excited about that, and while we compete at the highest level.

“(Sexton) is going to play meaningful games from Day 1. That’s a big deal, and that’s going to provide big growth for him as soon as we roll him out there (in summer league play).”

Sexton, who was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday when the Indians hosted the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field, averaged 19.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists as an Alabama freshman, when he helped the Crimson Tide reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.

Having first dunked in the seventh grade — he went on to win the dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-American Game — and a 6-8 high jumper as a high school junior, Sexton is not lacking when it comes to athletic ability.

He’s also intelligent — Altman said Sexton had a 4.0 grade-point average at Alabama — and not short on confidence, which is why the newest Cav chose to play basketball at a university most known for football.

“Honestly, I wanted to go somewhere and make a name for myself,” Sexton said. “I wanted to go somewhere and establish a winning culture. Everybody knows about the football team. I wanted to change the culture and make it basketball as well as football.”

“Education is very important to me and my family,” he added. “I just felt like being there, I might as well try and get the best of it. Both of my siblings have their degrees. I want to get mine as well. I can’t be left out.”

Sexton’s favorite player growing up was Kobe Bryant, but he said he’s patterned his game after guys like John Wall (speed), Eric Bledsoe (finding creases in defenses) and Russell Westbrook (energy).

He’s succeeded to the point that he became the first Alabama basketball player drafted in the top 10 since the Los Angeles Clippers chose Antonio McDyess with the second pick in 1995.

“Going into the draft, I just wanted to go to the right team, a team that was going to allow me to learn and come in and just be me,” Sexton said. “I was blessed to be there (at the draft). ... To be picked at No. 8 by Cleveland was big. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.”

There is still work to be done, especially when it comes to perimeter shooting. Sexton shot .438 at Alabama, including just .336 on 3-pointers (44-for-131), but said he’s made some adjustments to his mechanics.

On the positive side, Sexton attacked the rim relentlessly for the Crimson Tide, which resulted in a whopping 252 free throw attempts (and 196 makes, .778).

“I attack the basket pretty well,” he said. “I can score it.”

Though quiet off the court, Sexton is extremely confident and competitive on it.

“When you get between those lines, it’s no friends,” he said. “When you get between those lines, it’s us against them. We’re trying to win. It’s a switch that comes on.”

Sexton attended Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena — the Cavs were swept by Golden State — after working out for the team, loved the atmosphere and is eager to be a part of it.

If that happens for him in Cleveland, he’ll be wearing No. 2, just as a former point guard was when the Cavs won their only title two years ago.

“When I was sitting there watching the game, the seats were shaking, fans were screaming,” Sexton said. “I feel like I’ll be ready to play in something like that when the time comes.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.

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