INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It's a long trip from Goga Bitadze's home nation of Georgia to the state of Indiana, but the rising basketball star has a new home now.
The Pacers introduced their first round pick from the 2019 NBA Draft Friday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"First, want to say hi to everybody and thanks for all this love," Bitadze said at the introduction. "I'm really proud and happy I'm here. Those aren't just words. It comes from my mind and from my heart."
Bitadze was the 18th overall pick in the draft, and Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard was stunned to get the chance to call in the Georgian as his choice.
"We had Goga in our top 10," said Pritchard. "I knew one team above us was gonna take him, but one thing happened, and it's a butterfly effect for the whole draft."
"He is a guy that can step in and play right away," added head coach Nate McMillan. "He's not a project. Very excited to have a guy that we can play, bring in, and help us. We feel that he can help us this coming season."
Bitadze played in the EuroLeague for 13 games of the 2018-19 season, averaging 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game.
"To watch the NBA, when I got my eyes on it, it was like superheroes playing basketball," he said. "I could never imagine being here. It was so impossible for me, but as I got closer, it was like 'Yeah, I want this, and if other guys make it, I can make this too.'"
The first chance to see Goga Bitzdze in action for the Blue and Gold will come in the NBA Summer League. The Pacers first game is against the Grizzlies on July 6 at 7 p.m. in Las Vegas.