NBA

Portland Trail Blazers introduce draft picks Shaedon Sharpe and Jabari Walker: ‘We have two very good players’

ADVERTISEMENT

TUALATIN – Shaedon Sharpe is a man of few words.

The 6-foot-6 guard’s answers are usually shorter than the question he’s answering.

ADVERTISEMENT

But the Portland Trail Blazers did not select Sharpe with the No. 7 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft because of his gift for small talk. They chose him to be a fundamental piece for the present and the future of the team.

“I’m ready for anything, really,” Sharpe said when asked about his immediate expectations during Saturday’s introductory press conference at the team’s training facility. “Just me going out trying to impact the game. Really, anything to help the team.

Everyone can guess how much the 19-year-old, who spent a season at Kentucky but didn’t play a single game for the Wildcats, can contribute right away to a team expecting to return to the playoffs. next season after a year of injuries, trades and tanking.

Sharpe must earn his way onto the court for a team with three solid guards, including six-time All-Star Damian Lillard. But even if Sharpe doesn’t make an immediate impact, the Blazers believe they’ve landed a potential star in the making.

The Blazers introduced Sharpe on Saturday along with second-round pick (57th overall) Jabari Walker from Colorado. They were accompanied by general manager Joe Cronin and coach Chauncey Billups.

“We have two very, very good players,” Billups said. “Really talented guys that I’m really, really looking forward to investing in. So, I can’t wait for that.

This process will begin soon. Sharpe and the 6-9 Walker will play for the Blazers’ summer league team in Las Vegas. The session runs from July 7 to 17.

Sharpe’s landing with the Blazers was a touch-and-go on many levels. First, the Blazers were in trade talks with teams regarding the pick but, according to Cronin, came away disappointed with the offers they received.

Also, after working on Sharpe on June 15, the Blazers came away feeling good about selecting him rather than trading the pick. They just weren’t sure he would be available.

“We thought there were a few teams ahead of us that could take it,” Cronin said. “So through those times, it’s the stressful/enjoyable parts of the project where the unknown is so prevalent that you wait and wait. Then when you hear a certain name called and you know your guy is reaching out to you, it creates that energy in that room. This celebration. This happiness.

The Blazers believe that if Sharpe had played for Kentucky last season or next season, he might have been a better draft pick. Sharpe has exceptional athleticism to go along with skills uncommon for a player his age.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver (left) and Shaedon Sharpe pose for photos after Sharpe was drafted with the seventh overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2022 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June 23, 2022 in New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)Getty Images

This was on display last month during the NBA combine in Chicago.

“We all walked away from there a little amazed at his abilities,” Billups said.

But not competing at the college level left a big hole in her resume.

Sharpe, one of the top three recruits in the nation out of high school, said he plans to spend his freshman season at Kentucky and play next season. He wanted to grow physically, get stronger, and work on his soft skills.

“I was just preparing for next season,” he said. “I felt like I could train with the guys, get to know the system.”

But, when his name started to come up on the drawing boards, he changed his plans and got into the project. This left the only available game video of him coming from high school and club teams. A similar situation unfolded with Anfernee Simons in 2018 when he opted out of attending Louisville and the Blazers selected him 24th overall after a season at the IMG Academy in Florida.

Billups said he watched as many Sharpe gameplay videos as possible, but most of all he wanted to see Sharpe in action up close.

“For me, I just wanted to see how competitive he was,” Billups said. “Because he’s a very calm guy, as you can see. A very humble and discreet guy. He really reminds me a lot of Ant, to be honest, personality-wise.

That wasn’t the case during his practice on the court, where Sharpe delivered the fire and poise that Billups hoped to see. The practice included other draft prospects who had played in college and some, according to Billups, were quite “lively.”

“I really want to see how he would handle it,” Billups said. “Would his confidence waver if he didn’t shoot well or play well?”

No way.

“I left so impressed,” Billups said. “He stayed calm the whole time. He had this really quiet confidence in him that I really liked. He was very, very competitive in training. I was impressed with his feet, defensively. I didn’t see those things on tape because he didn’t have to watch anyone in high school for the most part. But I was really impressed with him.

Billups predicts there will be a learning curve for Sharpe, but he has the work ethic to meet the challenges ahead.

“He has certain things, certain skills and certain gifts that a lot of people in this whole world don’t have, that he’s been blessed with,” Billups said.

Sharpe grew up in Ontario, Canada, where he said he played hockey as a child before getting serious about basketball as a sophomore in high school after his family moved to Bel Aire, Kansas. Sharpe then moved to Glendale, Arizona, where he attended Dream City Christian School and averaged 21.4 points per game. This led to his name rising in the recruiting rankings.

Now that the recruiting and drafting process is behind him, Sharpe just wants to play again.

“I haven’t played for about a year,” Sharpe said. “I love going out and competing with guys. So I missed that a lot.”

Billups, a star point guard for Colorado in the 1990s, had a much better read of Walker than Sharpe during the draft process.

Oregon vs. Colorado at the Pac-12 Tournament

Oregon’s Rivaldo Soares (11) and Colorado’s Jabari Walker (12) battle for the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday March 10, 2022 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)PA

Billups said he was happy when the forward signed to Colorado. Partly because the former Detroit Pistons point guard played Walker’s father, Samaki Walker, an NBA player for 10 seasons.

Billups has followed Walker closely during his two years with the Buffaloes and believes he has a pro game.

“He can shoot it, he plays with a really high mover, he’s got a knack for defensive rebounds,” Billups said. “He’s just talented.”

For those reasons, and perhaps at least a little because of the collegiate ties, Billups got excited when Walker remained available for the Blazers to recover in the second round.

Walker said he liked the cut.

“It’s not about where you get drafted, it’s about the form,” he said. “I feel like home. I just feel like it’s perfect for me.

Walker said his father did a lot to help him understand the professional game.

“You just have to play the right way,” Walker said. “Bounce back. Have a knack for the little things. I thank my dad for teaching me how to play properly.

Landing in Portland was a relief for Walker considering the long process he went through.

“It’s just starting to feel real to me because I’ve had about 12 practice sessions where I just went through a bunch of setups,” Walker said. “And now I’m finally settling in and it should soon start to feel like home.”

Walker said his defense, hitting open shots and playing with energy could put him on the ground next season.

“It’s hard to get someone off the ground if they’re doing it at a high level,” he said.

Sharpe said much the same thing.

Sharpe said he met Lillard before Saturday’s press conference and the six-time All-Star told him to prepare to work hard and compete.

These similar themes and traits will guide Cronin through the summer. Free agency begins July 6.

Cronin said Sharpe and Walker embody the mentality the franchise was looking for.

“You’re going to see that consistently across our acquisitions,” Cronin said.

But talent is talent, and the Blazers need more.

“We realized we weren’t good enough, and we’re trying to improve,” Cronin said. “And to do that, you have to go out and find some really good players. It’s a beginning.

— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories

ADVERTISEMENT