NEW YORK – Just before midnight last Wednesday, NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik strode to the podium in The Theater at Madison Square Garden .

Angela Cesere
Daniel Horton has aspirations to play in the NBA with the Heat. (TOMMASO GOMEZ/Daily)

“With the 60th pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons select Will Blalock from Iowa State.”

Simultaneously, hearts sank around Ann Arbor and throughout Wolverine Nation. The Pistons’ selection of Blalock in the draft’s final slot officially meant that Michigan point guard Daniel Horton had gone undrafted despite the fact that he was coming off the most impressive season of his four-year college career.

The fact that the hometown Pistons desperately needed a backup point guard – coupled with the fact that Blalock himself could fill that role in upcoming years despite Horton’s superior scoring and free-throw shooting – made the reality even more difficult to accept.

Horton, who watched the draft with friends in Ann Arbor, could not be reached for comment. But according to Richard Katz, one of his agents, the Cedar Hill, Texas, native certainly wasn’t thrilled with his newfound free-agent status.

“There’s an immediate disappointment for anybody who doesn’t get drafted,” Katz said. “Of course, any talented athlete is going to be upset; it’s going to be an emotional situation when they’re not drafted. . But the reality is, if you’re not drafted in the early part of the second round, in my opinion, it’s better to be a free agent, because you can pick and choose where you want to go rather than being saddled with an organization where you don’t have as good of an opportunity.”

It didn’t take long for Horton to find a suitor – and, perhaps, an ideal platform from which he can launch an NBA career.

As the Detroit Free Press first reported on Friday, Horton plans to sign a guaranteed contract with the Miami Heat. Katz said the deal would most likely be a one-year agreement with a team option for the second season, and it could become official as early as July 12, when the free agency period begins.

If Horton does sign the contract – according to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, the minimum one-year salary for rookies during the upcoming season will be $412,718 – he will play for the Miami’s summer league team in Orlando from July 10 to July 14. In addition to the Heat, the Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic and New Jersey Nets will also field teams for the competition.

Katz said Horton plans to fly to Miami tomorrow evening to prepare for summer league play, after which he will spend another week or two with the Heat in Miami for “further instruction.”

While no written contract has been drawn up just yet, Katz said he, Horton and the Miami brass have agreed to the contract, which Katz feels is an indication that “the Heat has every intention of taking him to veterans camp.” At that stage, Horton would have an opportunity to compete directly for a spot on Miami’s active roster.

The situation appears to be a promising one for Horton. Veteran backup point guard Gary Payton is an unrestricted free agent who will be 38 years old and entering his 17th season in the league if he were to continue playing in 2006-07. If Payton isn’t back with the Heat next year, starter Jason Williams would be the only other point guard on Miami’s roster, barring another move. Of course, Horton would have the added benefit of playing alongside superstars Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal on a team attempting to defend its recent NBA title. Katz said that despite his client’s initial frustration at the conclusion of the draft, Horton has become quite optimistic about the positive aspects of his circumstances.

“I think Daniel’s very excited,” Katz said. “I think (he) sees that there’s an opportunity for him to compete for a job on that roster. He feels it’s a really good organization, and there’s some pretty talented basketball players there. . At the end of the day, I think he’s in a very good situation.”

Big Game Hunter: Katz, whose agency also represents undrafted Wolverines forward Chris Hunter, said the Gary, Ind., native is looking to hook on with a summer league team in the hopes of being invited to an NBA training camp. According to Katz, several teams have shown interest in adding Hunter to their summer team rosters, but a formal agreement has yet to be reached.

Notes: Horton led the Wolverines in scoring (17.6), assists (5.3) and steals (1.9) last season. He was named to the All-Big Ten first team by members of the media, and qualified for the All-Big Ten second team in the coaches’ vote. . According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, Horton was rated as the fourth-best athlete among draft-eligible players at the NBA’s pre-draft camp in Orlando last month. Horton was the top-rated player in the lane agility test. . Five Big Ten players were drafted on June 28. The Michigan State trio of guards Shannon Brown (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Maurice Ager (Dallas Mavericks) and center Paul Davis (Los Angeles Clippers) all went between picks 25 and 34. Illinois forward James Augustine (Orlando Magic) and guard Dee Brown (Utah Jazz) were selected later in the second round.

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