NBA draft analyst Matt Babcock shares his thoughts on former junior college star and NBA prospect Jay Scrubb after recently traveling to Atlanta, Georgia to see him work out and play.
In my current role as an NBA draft analyst, I wake up each morning with one goal in mind: gather as much relevant information on NBA prospects as I possibly can, in hopes of gaining a comprehensive outlook of each player that will be considered by teams in the upcoming NBA draft. Generally, I try to operate with a healthy balance of watching film, making intel calls, and traveling to see players in person — all responsibilities I consider to hold a tremendous amount of value. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, my day-to-day operations had been dramatically affected, as I had gone without traveling for almost six months. As I’m sure you can imagine, I became increasingly frustrated during that time. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to get back on the road. I recently traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to see NBA prospects Naji Marshall, Ty-Shon Alexander, and Josh Hall; a trip I found to be extremely productive. Following that trip, I decided to keep my aggressive approach going and booked a trip to Atlanta, Georgia to see junior college star Jay Scrubb of John A. Logan College. I’d like to share the details of that trip, but first, let me begin by telling you about my introduction to Jay Scrubb.
About seven years ago, my wife and I decided to leave Phoenix, Arizona to move to a new city. I tried to convince her that Dallas, Texas or Atlanta, Georgia would be great places to live (and work), but we ultimately decided to move to her hometown of Denver, Colorado. It’s a beautiful place to live but it’s far from being a hotbed for basketball talent. There is one clear cut advantage for me living in Denver though, as USA Basketball’s home base is only a short car ride away in Colorado Springs. I’ve driven down there for many of their events, oftentimes getting a head start on my evaluations of some of the nation’s top high school players. In June of 2019, I spent several days at the USA Basketball facility to see the U-19 World Cup Team training camp, a team that included some of the top college and high school prospects in the country. On that particular trip, I got an up-close look at 2019 NBA Draft prospects Onyeka Okongwu, Tyrese Halliburton, Kira Lewis Jr., Zeke Nnaji, Reggie Perry, as well as probable 2021 one-and-dones Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Suggs, among others. To put it simply, it was an incredible event from an evaluation standpoint.
Prior to making that trip, I reviewed the rosters so I could walk into the first practice prepared and ready to hit the ground running. I had seen most of the players on the rosters at least once before, if not multiple times, and I was familiar with every name on the list except for one. Who was Jay Scrubb from John A. Logan College?
As I entered the USA Basketball gym, I saw my friend and mentor, Fran Fraschilla, and I subsequently took a seat next to him. Then I introduced myself to the gentlemen sitting on the other side of me, who I had not met before. It was Kyle Smithpeters, the head coach at John A. Logan College. With a printed roster in hand, I quickly connected the dots that he was the coach for this unknown junior college player Jay Scrubb, which at the time was of little importance to me. However, that quickly changed.
At events with such star power like the U-19 training camp, it’s like being a kid in a candy shop for a scout — the talent in the gym that day was overwhelming. Despite focusing on evaluating the likely future NBA stars that were in attendance, I quickly took notice of the unknown juco player Jay Scrubb. At 6’6”, the lefty guard was smooth. He showed his abilities to shoot with range, put the ball on the floor, and jump out of the gym. Before long, I was drilling his coach Kyle Smithpeters — I needed to get the skinny on the kid. The first thing I asked was, how did this guy end up at John A. Logan College? Smithpeters explained that Scrubb was from Louisville and had a rough start in high school academically. He transferred to another school after his sophomore year and turned things around, but it was too little, too late in regards to being able to qualify academically to go to a division-one school. He then pulled out his phone and showed me highlights of Scrubb from the previous season — they were jaw-dropping. He also told me that Scrubb had shot 46% from three-point range his freshman season. I was extremely intrigued, to say the least.
After that practice, I talked to a number of NBA scouts that night at the Marriott in Colorado Springs (NBA scouts routinely stay at Marriott hotels, as do I). I was given access to the practices early because I’m a media member, which was certainly a perk. Anyway, I told everyone to watch Scrubb the next day, as I thought he had legitimate NBA talent despite being raw. It came as a surprise the next day when I found out that Scrubb had been cut from the team and sent home. I later learned that he had only been invited as a favor to the head coach of the USA team, Bruce Weber, who was trying to recruit Scrubb to play for him at Kansas State. The decision to cut Scrubb had clearly been made before he even showed up in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, NBA scouts did not get to see Scrubb on that trip — but I did, and he was on my radar.
Following the U-19 training camp, I kept in touch with Kyle Smithpeters, I tracked Jay’s season, and I was even put in touch with Jay’s dad, Jason, through a mutual friend. Jay went on to have a terrific sophomore season and was named the National Junior College Player of the Year. After the season, I was able to talk with both Jay and his dad. We discussed many things, and I told them I thought Jay should put his name in the draft, but suggested that he keep the door open to going to Louisville (the school he was committed to), depending on what type of feedback he received from NBA teams. They ultimately decided that they wanted to enter his name in the draft, sign with an agent, and forego his remaining college eligibility — which was their prerogative, of course.
Fast forward some time, and I received a call from a guy named Corey Marcum. He introduced himself saying he was an agent, the owner and founder of EZ Sports Group, and he had just signed Jay Scrubb. He also said he was aware that I had been in touch with Jay and asked if I would be willing to talk with him occasionally to provide some advice as he transitions to being a professional. I told him I was more than happy to help but that it was important for them to know that I would never compromise the integrity of my evaluations, regardless of my relationships with players or agents. I also warned him that they may not be happy with where I put Jay on our mock draft. He understood and agreed. From there, Jay and I talked every so often about basketball, life, and I gave him some suggestions of things he could do to improve on and off the court. As a result of the exposure I had been given, my comfort level with Jay off the floor had increased substantially, but I still needed to see Jay some more on the floor to get a firm grip on him as a prospect. Once I began traveling again a couple of weeks ago, I prioritized getting to Atlanta, Georgia to see Jay work out — and that’s just what I did.
I landed at the Jackson-Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta in the mid-afternoon. I picked up my rental car and pulled around to pick up our director of scouting, Derek Murray, as he arrived from Oklahoma City slightly after I did. We hopped on the I-75 to make our way north to Marietta where some of my family lives and where I attended George Walton High School for my senior year, nearly twenty years ago. Due to basketball reasons, my family and I decided to have me move from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to live with my aunt and uncle for my senior year. My uncle, Pete Babcock, was the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks at the time, and at Walton, I teamed up with Kevin Kruger, the son of Lon Kruger, who was the head coach of the Hawks. We had a terrific season that year and won a bunch of games. Our head coach, Joe Goydish, let us play with a ton of freedom and allowed us to enjoy playing the game — a breath of fresh air for me after playing for a very controlling coach in Milwaukee. I only spent a short time living in Atlanta, but I have fond memories, and it always feels like a bit of a homecoming when I return. That night I was able to catch up with my family before workouts started the next day — which was great!
The following morning, Derek and I made our way out to a church near Stone Mountain. There we watched Jay do a workout led by skills coach Rob Allen, who happened to be a former teammate at Temple with former Babcock Hoops’ staff member Wilbur Allen, who is now on the coaching staff at UAB in Birmingham, Alabama. Rob conducted a terrific workout, and Jay was really able to show his stuff. That was the first time Derek had seen Jay in person and he instantly commented on his legitimate size. He said, “Matt, he’s every bit of 6’6”, if not taller.” I agreed. His agent, Corey, chimed in to point out that his wingspan was also 6’10”. Jay went on to show his ability to get shots off from all over the floor with ease and glide through the air to execute incredible high-flying dunks. He also showed the capability to put the ball on the deck extremely well for a player his size. I am always careful not to put too much stock into individual workouts, as I think it can oftentimes be misleading. Regardless of that approach, Derek and I walked away from that workout that day very impressed. It was also great to spend some time with Jay in person as well. He’s just a really nice kid, easy to talk to, and has a refreshing and upbeat presence to him.
Jay was impressive again the next day in his individual workout. He was surely helping himself in our book. We began discussing not if we were going to move him up our draft board, but rather how high.
On the third and final day of our trip, we went to a gym named The Skill Factory, near Buckhead. There, we were able to see Jay play five-on-five versus a number of mostly overseas professional players. The games were organized by Jeremiah Boswell, which was very professionally done. The teams had uniforms, there were referees, and a scoreboard — this wasn’t just some sloppy pickup game. That was undoubtedly the most important day of our trip.
Upon walking into the gym, the first person I saw was Doc Martin, our director of basketball operations at Babcock Hoops, who lives in Atlanta. Doc played at Alabama, and is a former NBA scout and coach, having spent 15 years working with the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans. He is extremely experienced, and I really value his opinions. He’s also just a really good person — it was nice to see him. Derek and I took a seat with Doc as the game began. The three of us intently watched Jay from start to finish. He made a few slashing moves to the rim that were eye-opening. On one play, Jay brought up the ball and dropped a sweet dime to a cutting big man. And on another play shortly after, he split two defenders to throw down a powerful tomahawk dunk. Doc, Derek, and I all made eye contact with each other without saying anything, but it was clear we were all impressed.
Despite Jay’s moments of showing his exceptional raw talent, it wasn’t all positive. He really struggled on the defensive end. He needs to get stronger, and he needs to learn how to play. After the game, his agent, Corey, asked us to talk with him. I asked Jay, “what is the difference between you and Kobe Bryant?” I didn’t let him answer and I proceeded to tell him that he has similar physical tools and a natural high skill level like Kobe did. The difference was Kobe’s mindset, the “Mamba Mentality”. He never stopped getting better, mastering his craft, or continuing to learn the game. I then told Jay “you don’t know what you don’t know. Regardless of where you end up next year, you need to be a sponge, learn to take care of your body, and become a student of the game.” I’m not saying Jay Scrubb is the next Kobe Bryant — that wouldn’t be fair — but I hope my point resonated with him. After I spoke, Doc went on to tell him not to get comfortable or settle for blending in once he gets into the NBA. We were essentially thinking and saying the same thing: if “it” clicks for Jay, he could be special.
I left Atlanta the next morning. On my flight, I tried to focus and organize my thoughts. I came to the conclusion that Jay is not ready to step in and contribute on a high level in the NBA right away, but he has just about as much raw talent and upside as any player in the entire 2020 NBA Draft. Off the court, I like Jay; he’s a good kid and I trust him. I think he’s ambitious, and perhaps, most importantly, he’s competitive. He certainly needs more structure and needs to continue to implement more discipline in his daily life. Still, I would not put him into the category of a knucklehead with upside. He just needs some time and proper guidance. When it’s all said and done, if NBA teams get to know him the way I know him, I would not be surprised to see him get some consideration from teams selecting in the first round.
All in all, our trip to Atlanta was extremely fruitful! I’d like to extend a special thanks to Corey Marcum, Rob Allen, Jeremiah Boswell, Derek Murray, Doc Martin, and of course, Jay Scrubb. Best of luck, my friend!