Inside junior college star’s historic decision between Louisville basketball and the NBA

The last time a junior college player went straight to the NBA draft without a Division I stop, his would-be college coach bemoaned the decision. It was 2004, and Oldham County product Donta Smith had spent two years in the junior college ranks before deciding to skip out on his commitment to Louisville in order to enter the draft.

“It could be one of the five worst moves I’ve ever seen,” then-Louisville coach Rick Pitino told the Courier Journal at the time.

No junior college player has gone straight to the draft since Smith, who was selected 34th overall. And if there’s a junior college player in this year’s draft class, he’s unlikely to receive the same criticism from his would-be college coach. Louisville commit Jay Scrubb has been popping up on 2020 mock drafts for months now, and the Louisville coaching staff has been supportive of his decision — whether he picks Louisville or the NBA — according to Scrubb’s father, Jason Scrubb.

Scrubb, a former Trinity standout, will soon make a decision about his NBA future, but no matter what route he takes, he’s set to have an impactful 2020-21 season: either as a primary scorer for Louisville, or as the first junior college NBA pick in 16 years.

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The elder Scrubb doesn’t suffer from a lack of confidence in his son. In fact, he believes the 6-foot-6, incredibly athletic shooting guard could make it in the NBA, the NFL or MLB.

“That’s the type of athleticism he has,” Jason told The Courier Journal. “Watch his full game, you’ll see him play all three sports within a game.”

The 2020 draft process has been muddied by the coronavirus, but Jason believes that, under normal circumstances, his son would be a high pick.

“He would potentially jump up to the lottery. No question. Without a shadow of a doubt,” Jason said.

Louisville’s 2020-21 season is partially dependent on Scrubb’s decision, and Scrubb’s decision is entirely dependent on NBA feedback. Scrubb wants to be an NBA player. But he doesn’t want to be a project, according to his father, nor does he want to play in the G League.

Scrubb will test the NBA draft waters but has yet to sign an agent, and on Thursday, the Scrubbs submitted paperwork to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee. The feedback they receive from the NBA as to where he’s likely to be drafted will inform his decision.

“We’re not gonna force it,” the elder Scrubb said. “Jay’s not going go to the NBA and go and play in the G League.”

Scrubb is hoping for a first-round selection, which would make him the first junior college player taken in the NBA’s opening round since Qyntel Woods was picked 21st in 2002.

Most NBA teams have expressed some level of interest in Scrubb, with several — like the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings — watching him at practices and games multiple times.

“Louisville’s not out-of-bounds, but I think the NBA is becoming more and more realistic,” Jason said.

Scrubb’s two years at John A. Logan in Illinois have been highlighted by ferocious dunks and feats of athleticism, but his smoothness is just as eye-popping. The lefty can knock down jumpers off the dribble from anywhere, and his career numbers — 21.0 points per game, 52.4% shooting from the field, 39.5% from 3 — speak for themselves.

“He’s obviously very athletic, but people don’t realize how skilled he is,” John A. Logan coach Kyle Smithpeters told the Courier Journal.

Scrubb’s season hit a speed bump in November. The Volunteers, ranked in the NJCAA’s top five in the preseason, began the year 4-4, and after Thanksgiving break, Scrubb returned to campus a day late following some car trouble.

That prompted Smithpeters to suspend his star player; it was partially punitive, but it was also done to give the 19-year-old a chance to clear his mind from all of the hype surrounding his future. Scrubb missed three games, came back stronger, and carried John A. Logan the rest of the way.

He shot 3-of-17 in a loss to defending national champion Vincennes before Thanksgiving, but then led the team to 24 wins in its final 25 games, including a regional title in which he poured in 36 points on 16-of-26 shooting against that same Vincennes team.

“I thought that was an extreme improvement in maturity from a very, very talented player, that you don’t get a lot,” Smithpeters said.

Smithpeters can’t speak for more than a minute or two about Scrubb without mentioning how proud he is of the development’s Scrubb has made from stepping onto campus as a 17-year-old to leave as one of the most coveted players in the nation.

“He left Logan where I’d hoped he would leave,” Smithpeters said. “As a guy that was able to put the team on his back, lead the right way on and off the floor and handle the pressures.”

Jason says that Scrubb will make a decision regarding his future sooner, rather than later, so as to not keep Louisville waiting.

On one hand, Scrubb has not faced elite talent during his junior college years, which could place an asterisk by his impressive statistics. On the other hand, his upside as a big, bouncy, scoring wing is undeniable. One draft site has compared Scrubb to 15-year NBA veteran J.R. Smith.

“Louisville is getting, in my opinion, an unbelievable steal. Any program in the country would be very happy to have him,” Smithpeters said.

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