It's the birthplace of the blues. Where fired spits caramelize melt-in-your-mouth barbecue, then serve it up in droves on Beale Street.

There's Elvis Presley's famed estate, "Graceland." And the mighty Mississippi River, churning deep on the city's west side.

And now, there's Murray State's electric point guard -- Ja Morant -- who was selected by the Memphis Grizzlies as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft on Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

In those moments following NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's life-changing words, Morant lowered his head in a quiet bow, then rose and shuffled to the stage with his father, Tee.

"It was 'WOW,'" Morant said of his first thought after being selected. "Like, I really couldn't believe it. Who would've thought I would be in this position three, four years ago? Or to have the opportunity to play at Murray State, who made me into a better player and man? Now, I have the opportunity to play in the NBA."

Following in the point guard footsteps of Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne, Morant is the third selection for Murray State since 2013 and 23rd NBA selection in Racer history.

He's also tied for the highest overall NBA pick in OVC history (EKU's Jim Baechtold, 1952), is the league's 10th first-round pick and the third lottery pick since the NBA "lottery" era began in 1985.

Joined by a cadre of his tight-knit family -- as well as the Murray State coaching staff -- Morant donned a dapper light-purple pinstripe suit.

Inside the jacket were pictures telling his story: one of his family, one from his thunderous dunk at UT-Martin, two photos from his triple-double show against Marquette in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

His pocket square also had a picture: this one of his viral "relax, I'm not done yet" tweet following the win against the Golden Eagles, that had his hands in a "slow down" motion.

"I'm just saying I still have a lot more to prove," Morant said of the pocket square. "I'm trying to come in and make an immediate impact on the Grizzlies and make a name for myself in this league."

The last time anyone in the OVC was selected this high? It was 1967, when the now-Conference USA Western Kentucky Hilltoppers saw Taylor County native Clem "The Gem" Haskins nabbed with the No. 3 overall pick to the Chicago Bulls.

According to Fox Sports and, first-round selections can sign for as much as 120% or as little as 80% of the current NBA rookie pay scale. Under the NBA's collective-bargaining agreement, all rookie salaries are tied to draft position, with highest selections earning the most money.

Sitting on a guaranteed two-year contract, the NBA's baseline (100%) for the second-round pick is $7.27 million for the first season, $7.63 for the second season, $7.99 million for an optioned third season, a 26.2% increase from year three on any fourth-year option -- and a 30.5% increase from any year four salary in a fifth-year option.

Morant is also under contract with Nike, something he spoke briefly about when asked on Thursday night.

"Actually growing up, I always wanted a pair of Nikes," he said. "Now I have the chance to work with them. Like I said, it's a wild moment for me, to be able to be part of Nike.

Memphis, it is

Dalzell, South Carolina. Murray, Kentucky. Memphis, Tennessee. Quite the journey.

But most of the shock-and-awe of Morant to the Grizzlies was muffled well before Thursday's formal televised announcement.

Memphis officials had made it fairly clear in the last few weeks that Morant was "priority No. 1" following the 2019 NBA Draft Combine -- then all but confirmed its selection early Wednesday by trading its final cornerstone in point guard Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz.

Even a few last-minutes trades could've changed Morant's trajectory. But when the New Orleans Pelicans -- new owners of the No. 4 overall pick thanks to the Anthony Davis trade -- dealt that selection to the Atlanta Hawks, "Morant to Memphis" was all but chisled stone.

Still, Morant had to go through the motions just like all other NBA hopefuls did, and throughout the pre-draft process never really mentioned any specific teams of interest to him.

He just wanted to play somewhere in the NBA.

"It means a lot," he said. "Obviously it means that Memphis sees a lot in me. I'm grateful and thankful to them for drafting me. I'm very excited to play in Memphis."

Less than one hour after selecting Morant, Memphis continued the rebuild by trading up from No. 23 to No. 21 to select Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke - who averaged 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 68.7% shooting and 117 blocks for the Bulldogs after two years at San Jose State University.

The rise

Perhaps more surprising than the Grizzlies' decision to select Morant at No. 2 was his rise to this point in the first place.

On Thursday night, Morant touched on the plethora of mid-major stars who came prior to him and helped pave the way for a guy like him -- a mid-major star -- to become the centerpiece of an organization.

Guys like Damian Lillard (Weber State), Steph Curry (Davidson), CJ McCollum (Lehigh), Pascal Siakam (New Mexico State) and Fred VanVleet (Wichita State).

"We can go down the line of mid-major players who made a name for themselves in this league," he said. "I feel like guys who opened the door for me, it's only right that I go in, try to do what those guys did, make a name and keep the doors open for other mid-major players. It just means a lot for (mid-majors) to look up to me."

Earlier this week, ESPN's college basketball analyst Jay Bilas -- a former blue-chip star at Duke -- likened Morant's story to that of Curry, a wiry 6-3 point guard who took the Wildcats on a wild ride in the 2009 NCAA Tournament before being drafted No. 7 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft.

That similar story; from nobody to somebody.

"It wasn't like Ja Morant wasn't seen in high school," Bilas said. "He was seen. Same thing with Steph Curry. They were all seen. It's almost impossible now if you're going to play AAU ball, all that stuff. If you get out and play in high school, the circuit a little bit, people are going to see you.

"People just didn't see (Morant) being all this. Nobody thought Steph Curry would be all this. I'm not even sure Steph Curry's dad thought he'd be all this.

"...The word got out on (Morant) late, really late in high school. He had other offers really late, which a lot of times players take. He grew up in South Carolina, so South Carolina comes in late and offers him. A lot of times the player that had been recruited by the smaller school oftentimes takes the offer of the last suitor that comes in.

"Morant didn't do that. He decided to stick with Murray State and had a terrific freshman year. He averaged 12 or 13 points as a freshman. That's terrific. I watched him a couple times thinking that Murray State can make the tournament, all that stuff. When I watched, it didn't jump off at me that here is the next Russell Westbrook or De'Aaron Fox. It didn't register with me.

"Over the summer, you heard that that dude at Murray State is really good. I looked at their schedule. They're playing Alabama, Auburn. 'We'll find out then.' We found out. He put 38 on Alabama, was an Instagram sensation, all that stuff, then lit up Auburn. When he got to the tournament, he lit up Marquette and played well. If you look at his numbers against all these big-time schools or big-time teams, he delivered just about every time.

"He's legit. He's proven it."

Murray State - All-Time NBA Draft Picks

Name, Year, Round (pick), Team

Bennie Purcell 1952 NA Baltimore

Garrett Beshear 1953 NA Syracuse

Howie Crittenden 1956 NA New York

Quitman Sullins 1958 5(33) Minneapolis

Stewart Johnson 1966 3(21) New York

Don Duncan 1967 10(112) San Diego

Herb McPherson 1967 5(55) San Diego

Dick Cunningham 1968 2(21) Phoenix

Claude Virden 1970 9(142) Seattle

Hector Blondet 1971 5(71) Portland

Ron Johnson 1971 9(144) Baltimore

Les Taylor 1973 9(142) Cleveland

Grover Woolard 1977 6(132) L.A. Lakers

Mike Muff 1978 10(193) Golden State

Gary Hooker 1980 4(89) Seattle

Glen Green 1983 6(119) Denver

Mike Lahm 1985 5(100) Detroit

Jeff Martin 1989 2(31) L.A. Clippers

Popeye Jones 1992 2(41) Houston

Marcus Brown 1996 2(46) Portland

Isaiah Canaan 2013 2(34) Houston

Cameron Payne 2015 1(14) Oklahoma City

*Ja Morant 2019 1(2) Memphis*

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