LAS VEGAS — The Charlotte Hornets revealed their first surprise of the NBA Draft on June 22 when they selected Brandon Miller over Scoot Henderson with the No. 2 overall pick. Neither Miller nor Henderson had any idea which way the organization was going to lean on draft night, even bringing in both prospects for a final workout and meeting the Monday leading into the draft. A relieved and excited Miller spoke positively about joining the team and was looking forward to playing with his new teammates.
"LaMelo's [Ball] a great passer and his playmaking and IQ is elite," Miller told Yahoo Sports on draft night. "I feel like I can back him up with just making shots in tough moments. I'm really excited to get down to Charlotte and get to know all the other players, too."
Little did Miller know that just 25 picks later, he would be reuniting with an old AAU teammate and someone he's played with and against since they were both 13 years old. With the 27th overall pick, the Hornets selected Nick Smith Jr. out of Arkansas. The duo previously played for Brad Beal Elite on Nike's EYBL circuit in high school and were one of the most dynamic backcourt pairings in AAU basketball during the summer of 2021.
"We were really peaking at the right time during Peach Jam," Smith Jr. told Yahoo Sports. "We were both playing at a high level, in front of NBA scouts, with Brad Beal coaching us from the sidelines. I don't think a lot of people had seen that sort of play between a guard and with Brandon alongside me with his length and the way he shoots the ball. I love playing with him."
With everything that draft night brings and the stress of not knowing where a player is going to land, it took Smith Jr. a little bit to even realize he and Miller would be teammates in Charlotte.
"I didn't really pick it up right away, that we were going to be teammates again, to be honest," Smith Jr. said while laughing. "There's just so much going on during draft night and it wasn't until I was in the back doing all the media where I stopped and realized that me and Brandon were on the same team."
Said Miller: "I was excited we'd be teaming up again. Just knowing how hard he works and to reach this dream, I'm looking forward to playing with him."
"I'm proud of them, for sure," Beal told Yahoo Sports at Nike's Peach Jam. "I'm proud of all of our guys from our program, but the two of them playing together again will be fun to watch."
Miller played his one college season at Alabama, while Smith Jr. was 430 miles away at Arkansas. Both players endured their share of struggles, on and off the court, with Smith Jr. being sidelined with a minor knee injury for the majority of the season. Miller was involved in an incident off campus that resulted in the shooting death of Jamea Harris.
On Feb. 24, Arkansas traveled to face No. 2-ranked Alabama, the first time Miller and Smith Jr. had squared off on the college stage (Smith Jr. was out injured in the first matchup on Jan. 11). Both Miller and Smith Jr. finished with 24 and six rebounds each, while Alabama got the win at home, 86-83. Even in the loss, it was Smith Jr. who was waiting in the tunnel for Miller, wanting to catch up after the game.
"For both of us, we just went through a lot this past college season so I'm always going to check in my guys," Smith Jr. said. "Did I want that win? Absolutely, but we're always going to dab it up and catch up afterwards."
Both players admitted to on-court struggles early on in practices after coming from different college systems, but they're slowly settling in. The Hornets have a lot of guards on their Summer League team but not necessarily a true floor general like they'll have in Ball this upcoming season. It's been frustrating at times, but both players are learning to play through it.
"Right now, we're just trying to figure out how to play together and play as a team," Miller said. "The biggest thing for us is just building as a whole group."
The Hornets are 0-4 during the Las Vegas Summer League after losing to the New Orleans Pelicans, 89-83, Thursday evening. Miller averaged 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in three games before being shut down, while Smith Jr. is averaging 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes. The Hornets will face the Minnesota Timberwolves at 2 p.m. ET Saturday.