REXFORD — As everyone cheered, snapped photos and clapped their hands around Tom Huerter's son after his first-round selection in Thursday’s NBA draft, the dad bowed his head.
Seconds later, his eyes welled, he looked up at the TV screen in front of him showing Kevin Huerter as the No. 19 pick to the Atlanta Hawks.
It was a night about family and friends for the Huerters, and hearing that last named called out on ESPN hit Tom Huerter hard.
“It’s special when you hear your name called, meaning our last name,” Tom Huerter said. “My dad’s not with us anymore, and he would be just so proud. He’d be the proudest person in this building right now. A lot of my emotion was just thinking I wish my dad was here with us for this.”
There it is.— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) June 22, 2018
Atlanta Hawks, No. 19
Kevin Huerter pic.twitter.com/Xr7JFjPWhF
So many loved ones, though, surrounded Kevin Huerter on his big night hosted at The Edison Club.
That was the whole point.
The 19-year-old who starred at Shenendehowa High School before playing at the University of Maryland was invited to attend the draft in person at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Kevin Huerter, though, turned down that opportunity to spend the evening surrounded by more than 200 of his family members, friends, old coaches and former teammates before starting his life as a professional athlete.
“He didn’t want to do the two days of pageantry down in Brooklyn,” Tom Huerter said. “He didn’t want to have to be at a table where all his family couldn’t be there, meaning his three siblings, mom and dad.”
After the night’s first several picks were announced, the Huerter family set up in the front row of several groups of chairs. Not long after sitting down, mom Erin Huerter leaned over to whisper into her younger son’s ear to make sure he was still happy with his decision to forego the fun of draft night in Brooklyn.
“Absolutely,” he answered.
Later, that Kevin Huerter spent the evening waiting to hear his name called with so many well-wishers around him was what he said struck him the most about the experience.
“I’m so happy I’m here, to be honest,” Kevin Huerter said. “I’m glad I made the decision to stay around. ... Every single pick, you could just feel the emotion of people behind me waiting for my name to get called. When it finally did, it was incredible.”
And Kevin Huerter had to wait a bit. While his stock had increased significantly in the past couple months, the 6-foot-7 perimeter player with the sweet outside shot had a long range within which he could have been selected.
Finally, a little more than two hours after the draft’s start, Kevin Huerter got to celebrate.
First came a hug for mom. The day before, Kevin Huerter had said the two of them had been debating what he’d wear for draft night. The teenager joked he had voted for sweats and a T-shirt, but Mom won — “I did!” — and he wore a blue polo shirt to watch his selection.
“In so many ways, he’s so mature and so independent and so confident and so smart,” Erin Huerter said. “But there are still those glimpses where he allows himself to be guided.”
It has been rare in the last two years, ever since Kevin Huerter left for Maryland and older brother Thomas Huerter started his own college basketball career at Siena, that Erin Huerter has had all of her kids together for a prolonged period of time. Since leaving for Maryland after his senior year at Shenendehowa, Kevin Huerter has rarely spent more than a few consecutive days at home.
Once Kevin Huerter declared for the draft, though, he had been able to stay at home for weeks along with his brother, and younger sisters Meghan and Jillian. Thomas Huerter said getting that time together as a family was one of the best parts of his younger brother’s draft process.
“We know our days of extended time together like this are limited,” said Thomas Huerter, whose brother is likely to spend his weekend in Atlanta.
After a long hug with mom, one with dad was up next for Kevin Huerter. Tom Huerter — a former Siena basketball player — had collected himself at that point, but the hug brought on a fresh wave of emotion.
“That was emotional. That almost got me,” Kevin Huerter said. “I was telling people I wasn’t going to cry and that almost got me. We’ve been through a lot together, and you don’t see him break down like that a lot. He’s the toughest guy in my life.”
Kevin Huerter, who was a lightly recruited college prospect before leading Shenendehowa to a Class AA state championship in 2015, will join a rebuilding Hawks franchise coming off a 24-58 season. He is headed to a city whose baseball team — the Braves — drafted his childhood friend Ian Anderson in the first round of the 2016 MLB draft, and the former Terrapin projects to form a backcourt partnership with fellow first-round pick and former USA Basketball teammate Trae Young.
It was tough to process.
“Kevin’s going to the NBA,” Tom Huerter said. “That’s so far from anything we ever fathomed when he was growing up.”
That he spent the night that seemingly impossible dream came true surrounded with so many loved ones only added another special layer to the evening.
“Just to see all the people here, to see all the people who took time out of their schedule to support Kevin, it takes your breath away,” Erin Huerter said. “We know how lucky he is.”
“We couldn’t be any happier,” Tom Huerter said.