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On The Road | Live Scouting Notes on Jarace Walker, Marcus Sasser, Terquavion Smith, and More
Corey Tulaba opens up his scouting notebook to detail some of his most recent in person scouting trips.
“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
My favorite part of the scouting process is the live experience. Frankly, nothing else comes close. It reminds me of my touring days when I worked in music. From the hours spent jamming to music and listening to podcasts in the car, to experiencing the food and culture of a city, to the actual basketball stuff—getting to the arena hours early to watch warmups and shoot around, the in-game action, the networking—there is nothing in this space quite like taking it all in up close and in person.
It isn’t the only valuable means to scout, of course. Unless you’re backed by the World Wide Leader, it would be nearly impossible to see every single NBA Draft prospect live; the film grind is invaluable to the process. With that said, there are just certain aspects of evaluating a prospect that become clearer when seeing someone up close. The live experience can serve as a magnifying glass that allows you to hone in on specifics that you don’t get through a broadcast or through the online discourse. What is a prospect’s demeanor like during pre-game? How engaged are they on the bench? Do they audibly talk on defense? There is a reason that professional basketball teams send their scouts to evaluate in person.
The last few months, I’ve been traveling all over the East Coast to cover games for the Ceilings. Between the actual travel and finding holes in my coaching schedule, it has been a lot; but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love the grind, man.
Let’s get cooking.
This was a big game for the Corey Tulaba agenda. If you’ve been following me throughout the pre-draft process, you know I have been outlier-level high on Jarace Walker, going as far as labeling him as the third overall prospect on my board on the Draftdaq in early September. Nothing has changed with all he’s shown throughout the season; having seen him show off the full arsenal up close, nothing will for the rest of the process.
Walker is 6’8” and 235 pounds of bad ass mother fucker with elite coordination and motor. Temple simply had no answer for him. Walker knocked down threes in a variety of ways (off the bounce, off the catch, stepback, vs. unders), made plays for his teammates, cleaned the garbage, and displayed that soft touch on the float game. He emptied the clip! And the best part? It’s all within the flow of the offense. There’s no forcing the issue. He’s going to serve as an elite ancillary offensive piece on an NBA team. Combine that with his defensive impact…and yeah, the dude rocks.
Walker is going to do a lot of winning over his career. Do not overthink this evaluation. Jarace Walker is the goods.
I’ve also long been a big Marcus Sasser guy, so getting the Coog experience live was the perfect opportunity to pull double duty. Sasser doesn’t have the ideal physical characteristics of a modern NBA point guard, but I value guys that have clear NBA-level skills and win a shit ton of games throughout their college career. Sue me.
Sasser had a fairly quiet night offensively in Houston’s win, but I remain steadfast in my belief that he is worth taking in the 20-ish range. Even in a game where he wasn’t fully cooking, he was a pest defensively, made plays for his teammates, got out in transition, and hit one of the smoothest Euro-steps that we’ll see this cycle. Side bar, the Euro-step mentioned above hilariously resulted in a Temple fan dad in the row behind me pontificating to his son about how the finish was a travel, and back in his day, they used to teach players how to finish off a jump stop. If you close your eyes, you can actually picture what this man looks like.
The only disappointing part of the trip was when I was already 30 minutes into my journey, and my wife called to inform me that she left the straightening iron on in our apartment and thus, I needed to go back so we didn’t burn the place to the ground. The disappointment lay not in having to drive back to the apartment but in the wasted time that prevented me from arriving early enough to find a Philly Cheese Steak to devour and write about for Food Court.
The next stop of the tour led me to Boston…the mean streets of Boston (word to Benzino), to get some eyes on Terquavion Smith at Conte Forum as NC State took on Boston College.
Smith, a potential Top 20 pick, has been one of the most confounding players in his class over the last two draft cycles, with evaluators ranking him anywhere from the lottery out to the second round.
The elevator pitch for Smith is that he is a walking heat check. He can go on these scoring barrages out of nowhere that make you look up at the scoreboard and go: “how did this game get out of hand so fast?” Early in the first half, Smith went for ten straight points in a four-possession span. It felt like that’s when the game went from a competitive match-up to: oh, this game is over, huh?
Perhaps the thing that stood out most about his game up close is the level of ease with which he gets to his spots. It looks like he’s playing the game at a different speed than the rest of the guys on the floor. Even when he misses a jumper, it feels like it’s rarely because a defender made him miss the shot.
Smith’s playmaking also looked much improved. He isn’t a surgical playmaker that is going to pick the defense apart in the way that a Chris Paul or Tyrese Haliburton will, manipulating the defense with his every decision, but Smith made some beautiful last-second improvisational reads as he collapsed the defense that impressed me. Not all of his playmaking translated to assists, but his scoring gravity is palpable, and he’s made a concerted effort this season to use it to get his teammates involved. Because Terq is such a lethal shotmaker, the defense has to worry about him as soon as he walks over halfcourt. The spacing he provides for his teammates when he’s on the floor makes their lives significantly easier.
I’d like to see Terquavion seek out contact more aggressively on drives, as he’s more prone to settle for a floater or allow the defender to win with physicality at the rim. It’s still a work in progress, but Smith has made strides; he’s finishing 55% at the rim this season, up from just 46% last year per Synergy.
Before the game started, I asked an NBA scout what he thought of Smith. He told me that he believes that Smith will have to hit a baseline level of defense to stick in the league, but the first note of his scouting report read: scored nine points in 70 seconds. That lethal shot-making is a bankable NBA skill that will give him a chance to earn minutes on an NBA floor. Not every first round prospect has one of those.
Rewind to earlier that week, and the open road led me out to Keane University in New Jersey to take in some elite high school basketball on the opening day of the Metro Classic. This was a loaded slate of games starting at 1pm and ending with an 8pm tip time. I had every intention of staying for the entirety of the day; however, my back had other plans when it realized that Keane’s gym is just straight wooden bleachers with no back support. Needless to say, I didn’t make it till the end of the night, but I still got to stay for a few of the games until my back forced me to tap. I guess this is growing up.
The slate started with LuHi—currently ranked #9 in the country on ESPN’s Top 25—taking on Bishop Walsh. There were a few interesting prospects but the game’s standout was LuHi’s VJ Edgecombe, a 6’4” junior swingman whose stock continues to rise.
When I scout, one of the things I look for is how easy a prospect makes the game look. Are they pressing, or are they controlling the pace? Edgecombe made it look real easy on the floor.
Edgecombe is a good athlete with excellent body control in midair and a smooth stroke who can get after it defensively. He doesn’t play with a ton of shake in the halfcourt and needs to show more self-creation off the bounce, but dude plays with a mature pace and a quiet confidence. He looks like someone you’d cast to play UNC Michael Jordan in a lifetime Jordan biopic. His development between now and his senior season is going to be fun to watch.
Next up, I saw Montverde take on La Lumiere.
The first thing that drew my attention while watching warmups was Wisconsin commit Gus Yalden of La Lumiere. Yalden looks more like he should be driving a tractor than hooping, but that changes when you see him on the hardwood. You could see just how skilled the young big man is by watching shootaround. He’s got an outside shot and advanced footwork around the hoop—just a fundamental technician. Is he an NBA guy down the line? Eh, probably not. He’s undersized, ground-bound, and he’s going to have to work himself into much better shape over the coming years. He really struggled against the size and athleticism of the Montverde frontcourt. He might not be a league guy, but I’d put money on him becoming a fan favorite at the college level.
Gus Yalden? More like Gus Y’allden! The dude is FUN.
His teammate Kaleb Glen on the other hand? Dude is chiseled out of marble. A dynamite athlete listed at 6’7” and 210 pounds, Glen isn’t the most creative ball-handler, but he’s strong enough to go through your chest, serve as a screener, and act as a rim destroyer in transition. The question mark lies in if he can develop any semblance of an outside jump shot. Sound familiar? There are definitely some Isaac Okoro/Cam Whitmore vibes with Glen. Glen is currently ranked 78th on ESPN’s Top 100 rankings, but he’s a prospect who I could easily see making his way onto draft boards in the future if his development tracks in the right direction during his stay at Louisville.
On the Montverde side of things, we saw a standout performance from junior Liam McNeeley. McNeeley dropped 29 points to go along with eight boards and five assists, scoring in a variety of ways. McNeeley may be best known from some of his viral highlight reels featuring a long blonde-haired sharpshooter, but with a new fresh cut, the Montverde spotlight, and number one option reps, McNeeley is a name that should continue to buzz as he continues to do his best Klay Thompson impression in the NIBC.
McNeeley’s teammate Sean Stewart—headed to Duke and currently the 16th ranked prospect in the ESPN 100 for 2023—popped with his play. Stewart is a 6’8” 230-pound bouncy athlete with some funky movement patterns and a good motor. Stewart came off the bench, but it felt like the game turned in Montverde’s favor once he entered the game after trailing early. Stewart made an impact with his effort and activity around the hoop on both ends. Stewart has shown some shooting flashes as a midrange operator, where he gets some real elevation, but I’ll be watching to see if he can consistently extend that range out to the three-point line next year in Durham. Either way, with his athleticism, he should have Cameron Indoor rocking.
The 2023 NBA Draft Scouting Tour doesn’t end here. The open road is a lifestyle, and so I’ll find myself back out there, chasing the high of those white and yellow lines en route to see a slew of 2023 prospects. Who knows where they’ll take me next, but I’ll be there, notebook in hand, to soak it all in.
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road