MU’s Oriakhi thrilled to get a shot at the NBA

All Alex Oriakhi and Phil Pressey want is a chance.

Oriakhi’s NBA dream started when he first picked up a basketball as a toddler in Lowell, Mass.

That dream came one step — a significant step — closer Thursday when the Phoenix Suns picked the 6-foot-9, 255-pound senior who transferred to the Tigers from Connecticut in spring 2012 with the 57th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

“I’m just happy my name was called and I think I can compete in the NBA,” Oriakhi said. “I think I have a good chance of making the team. I’m confident in myself and (Phoenix) gave me an opportunity, so now I have to go make the best of it.”

Pressey, whose father Paul played 11 seasons in the NBA, didn’t hear his name called during the draft, but he signed a free-agent contract less than an hour later and will get in on the ground floor of the Boston Celtics’ rebuilding effort.

“It was a long, stressful day,” said Pressey, who shrugged off the disappointment of not going undrafted. “Yeah, I wanted to hear my name called, but at the end of the day I feel like the position I’m in now will be best for me.”

He said the Celtics were his top choice.

“I had a great workout there, but also (Boston’s president of basketball operations) Danny Ainge loves my game,” Pressey said. “He has confidence in me and knows what I’m capable of, so that’s a plus when somebody’s willing to stick their neck out for you.”

Pressey’s going to get a chance, one he’s dreamed about for as long as he can remember.

The same is true for Oriahki.

“This is wanted I’ve wanted to do for the rest of my life since I was 5,” Oriakhi said. “I wanted to be in the NBA as soon as I picked up a basketball. So many people told me, ‘You’re not going to get drafted’ or ‘You’re no good’ this and that, but I just kept working.”

Known primarily as a rebound-and-defense guy, Oriakhi showed off some range during pre-draft workouts after averaging a career-high 11.2 points with 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in his senior season.

He had never shot better than 50.7 percent from the field or 63.0 percent from the free-throw line during three seasons with the Huskies before shooting at 63.9 and 74.6 percent clips at Mizzou.

“I want to give Alex credit,” Tigers coach Frank Haith said. “He was so determined and he was so coachable. A guy that’s been in college that long to come in and just give himself totally to you, he was a great teammate and such a joy to work with.”

Oriakhi hopes the same work ethic and team-first mentality will serve him well moving into the NBA.

“It’s a blessing to hear your name, so I’m happy and ready to keep working and keep getting better at what I do,” he said. “I wanted to go to a team that wants me and wanted to take a chance on me.”

Pressey, who established career-highs in points (11.9) and assists (7.1) last season before opting to forego his senior season at Mizzou in April, joins a Celtics team in transition.

Head coach Doc Rivers bolted for the Clippers this week, and superstars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to Brooklyn on Thursday, a swap that won’t become official until July 10.

The lone remaining star, point guard Rajon Rondo, tore his ACL in January and will miss the beginning of the 2013-14 season.

Still, Pressey is eager to get his Boston career underway.

“I’m focused on what I can control next and that’s the summer league, so I’m looking forward to that and whatever happens after that is out of my hands,” Pressey said. “I’m just glad to be able to prove myself once again.

Finally, former Tigers forward Laurence Bowers will play for the Memphis Grizzlies’ summer league squad.