First Stop, Knoxville, Tennessee
Owner and Founder of Babcock Hoops, Matt Babcock, recaps his preseason scouting trip to Knoxville, Tennessee.
As I packed my bag for my next scouting trip, I couldn’t help but get excited. The previous week I had begun my season with a visit to Phoenix, Arizona to see two top high school players: MarJon Beauchamp and JD Tsasa. I also checked out the Arizona State team's first practice of the year. However, my next scheduled trip would be on another level from a scouting standpoint, as I would visit top college teams: Tennessee, Louisville, and Memphis, all within just a few days. My scouting season was in full gear and I was pumped!
The first stop of the trip was in Knoxville, Tennessee. From the time I exited the plane in Knoxville until I checked in to my hotel, I was asked by a handful of different people if I was in town for ‘the game’. The Tennessee Vols football team was hosting the 3rd ranked Georgia Bulldogs that Saturday and the town was buzzing. To everyone’s surprise, I said that I was not in town to watch the football game but rather to see the basketball team practice instead. Although I was welcomed with plenty of southern hospitality, no one seemed to be quite as enthused about basketball practice as I was, to say the least. It was clear that I was in college football country and it was football season. Nonetheless, I was excited to watch some hoops.
That night in Knoxville, I grabbed a bite to eat at a great restaurant, Tupelo Honey, right in the main square of town. It was a very charming place! There were Georgia Bulldogs fans everywhere and the town’s festive weekend had already begun. I ordered grilled catfish that did not disappoint — it was delicious! After dinner, I headed back to my hotel. I needed a good night’s sleep; I had a big few days ahead of me.
The next morning I woke up, grabbed my daily cup of coffee, and headed over to the team’s practice facility. As I walked into the gym, I saw several young guys, who I assumed were players, in casual clothes. I quickly realized that they were three top ranked high school recruits on their campus visits. Two of the players had already committed: Keon Johnson and Corey Walker. Johnson, from Bell Buckle, Tennessee, is an incredible athlete and shoots the ball well from outside. Walker, from Jacksonville, Florida, is a versatile forward that can do a little bit of everything. The third player, Jaden Springer, had not committed to a school yet. Springer, the highest rated of the three from Charlotte, North Carolina, is a strong guard and an incredible defender. Although still in high school, all three players are already on Babcock Hoops’ radar. Johnson and Walker would make for a stellar recruiting class by themselves, but a commitment from Springer, which I have been told is probable, would make for a slam dunk of a recruiting year for head coach Rick Barnes and his program.
While at the practice facility, I was able to catch up with the coaching staff, comprised of several familiar faces that had also worked with Coach Barnes during his time as head coach at Texas, prior to coming to Tennessee. To give a little background, Coach Barnes and my dad have been close friends for many years. As a result of my dad’s relationship with Barnes, years ago my cousin Chris, who is now the director of player development for the Philadelphia 76ers, was able to secure a graduate assistant position at Texas. Also due to this relationship, I had the chance to develop good relationships with everyone within the Texas program during his time there. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to represent various players from Texas while I was an agent, including Gary Johnson, Clint Chapman, Alexis Wangmene, Cam Ridley, Prince Ibeh, and Connor Lammert, respectively. Since Coach Barnes left Austin a handful of years ago and traded a Texas burnt orange ’T’ for a Tennessee orange one, he has seemingly recreated a similar infrastructure and replicated the success he had in Austin in Knoxville, all over again. Hats off to Coach Barnes!
Disappointedly, the coaching staff informed me that 2020 NBA draft prospect Josiah James was unable to participate in an individual workout due to a minor injury. This meant bad news for me, as seeing Josiah was the main reason I was in town. Luckily, I got the opportunity to meet him. At 6’6” with a well developed physique, he was impressive even without seeing him on the court. Only a freshman, he carried himself very well, made eye contact while shaking hands, and had a mature way about him. I had seen Josiah play in the past, so getting a feel for him as a person was equally as important, if not more important, for me on that trip. The combination of speaking with the coaching staff about Josiah and actually meeting him gave me an increased sense of comfortability with him as a person and as a prospect. We now have him slotted as the 17th pick on our Babcock Hoops Mock Draft.
Later that night, I attended the team’s open scrimmage and, although Josiah was on the sidelines, I was happy to be able to see seniors Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner. Bowden showcased his athleticism and scoring prowess. Turner was able to show he is a true point guard and an effective floor general. And to my surprise, a freshman I had previously never heard of really stood out: Olivier Nkamhoua — a strong, 6’8” power forward with a visibly long wingspan. After watching him execute several smooth moves in the low and mid post, I pulled out my phone to search for some background information on him. I discovered he is originally from Finland, most recently playing at a prep school in Maryland. I also noticed he was not ranked all that high or recruited very heavily. I then sent a text message to Matt McKay, Jr., the director of basketball operations for Babcock Hoops and my business partner with Pro Insight. I asked if he had ever heard of this player before, to which he replied he had not. Following this, we entered him into our database and began our evaluation process.
As the Tennessee team wrapped up their scrimmage, I too wrapped up my productive trip to Knoxville. I proceeded to head back to the hotel as I had an early start the following morning.
Next stop: Louisville, Kentucky.