Published June 28, 2013
HOUSTON – Isaiah Canaan helped Murray State to 106 wins in his four years with the Racers.
So his answer was simple when asked what his best quality was soon after the Houston Rockets took him 34th overall in the NBA draft on Thursday night.
"I'm a winner," he said.
Canaan didn't have a losing season in his college career, and the mid-major Racers won 31 games and made the NCAA tournament in two of his four seasons there. He believes staying in school for four years will help his transition to the NBA.
"It will help me a lot," he said. "I've got that experience behind me and a lot of wins behind me to just go out there and be able to lead a team and be able to show that I belong and can be an asset for the team."
The Rockets agree, and in this era of so many one-and-done players, they love the polish he gained by playing four college seasons.
"Isaiah was someone we were targeting big-time," general manager Daryl Morey said. "We feel like shooting is something we can't get enough of on the team. This guy is one of the best shooters coming out of college in a while."
The Rockets have a tradition of draft-day dealings under Morey, so he apologized for the lack of intrigue with his team in this year's draft before talking about his newest player.
"My most boring draft ever," he said with a chuckle. "But we're excited."
Canaan was a two-time Ohio Valley Conference player of the year. He led Murray State in scoring in each of the last three seasons. He scored in double figures in all of his 31 games last season, averaging 21.8 points, 4.3 assists and 1.5 steals a game.
He scored more than 2,000 points in his four-year career with the Racers and was a career 42 percent 3-point shooter.
The speedy scorer joins a fast-paced Rockets team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 led by the trio of James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons. They rallied from a 3-0 first-round deficit before being eliminated by Oklahoma City in Game 6.
Morey said Canaan will likely begin his career in the D-League, but thinks his style will fit in nicely with the Rockets when he's ready.
"He's short, but he's thick so he's not a liability defensively," Morey said of the 6-foot-1 player. "Tough kid — really good kid. He's not just an elite 3-point shooter, but he can take people off the bounce and can really fill it up and do it efficiently, which everyone knows we like."
It was an emotional night for Canaan because of the winding path he took to get to this point in his life. Canaan and his family went through a difficult time when he was 14. He and his mother had to spend about three months in Marietta, Ga. when they lost their home in Biloxi, Miss. because of Hurricane Katrina.
"Today means a lot," he said. "Just knowing that all the hard work that we have done as a family and everything we have been through and now we've got a chance to take the next step. Me personally, to be able to show that I belong there it really helps out a lot and they're really looking forward to it and are blessed."
Houston has had recent success in the second round of the draft. They selected Parsons with the 38th selection in 2011, and he has developed into a solid starter and averaged 15.5 points last season. He was even better in the playoffs when Lin was ailing, averaging 18.2 points a game against the Thunder.
Morey has already pointed out the success of Parsons to Canaan.
"I reminded him he got picked ahead of Chandler Parsons so he's got a lot to live up to in terms of second-round picks, which is totally unfair," Morey said. "But I think he'll live up to it. I really see a kid who's going to succeed."