Uncertain NBA Draft will have major impact on Louisville basketball

One decision this offseason could potentially influence the direction of the Louisville basketball program in 2020-21.

The 2020 offseason is going to be most likely the most interesting thus far for Chris Mack since taking over as the head coach of the Louisville basketball program.

Mack probably couldn’t have asked for a better situation for his roster in year one, although the recruiting was challenging due to the early period being introduced into college basketball and lack of available players at the time, he filled the few open roster spots with the players he could and waited to add more players down the road. He followed it up with adding six players in the class of 2019, a number that may seem high, but put the team back at the maximum 13 scholarships for the first time in two years.

Now with the 2019-20 season complete, six players will move on for the Cards, and once again Chris Mack will have to fill his roster – but this time he’ll be adding to a rather youthful and inexperienced group. In 2020-21, Mack will return five sophomores (only two who averaged more than 13 minutes per game) and a redshirt freshman with loads of talent.

To that group, he’ll also add four-star recruit Jay Scrubb, who just so happens to be a local-502 product hailing from Trinity High School. Or so we hope.

After blowing up over the last two seasons at John A. Logan College, Scrubb committed to his hometown Louisville program with sky-high expectations. In fact, in year one he will be expected to do more than potentially any recruit in program history.

Scrubb comes into the fold with an endless list of accolades and accomplishments, including being named an NJCAA All-American as a freshman, being the only junior college player to be invited to participate with Team USA (U-19), as well as earning the number one JUCO rating in the country for the class of 2020.

Along with that hype has come talk of the NBA and the potential for Scrubb to follow in the same footsteps as numerous players who have committed to the Cards only to spurn them for professional aspirations. You don’t need names.

Talk of the NBA was at an all-time high this past offseason as Scrubb prepared for his second season, but many wanted to see more. Mock Draft creators and draft writers who followed Scrubb loved his potential but thought that a year of college would only boost his stock considering no JUCO player has been drafted since 2004.

We talked to NBA Draft expert and former league agent Matt Babcock about several Louisville basketball stars and their potential in the NBA. We specifically asked about Scrubb and how he was being perceived around the league. He wrote:

I’d be surprised if there is a large contingent of NBA general managers that have seen Jay Scrubb at this point. However, I’m sure many NBA scouts and personnel other than general managers have checked him out. If he decides to test the waters the NBA pre-draft process would be crucial for him. I would expect him to be invited to the NBA Draft Combine. From there, he would need to impress.

Speaking with 247 Sports, Scrubb’s father had the following to say about his son’s future:

“At the end of his second year at John Logan when we have a chance to evaluate things we will definitely consider the path to a professional career as well as consider the option of D1 program. It all hinges on a few things, where he would go in the Draft. if he’s projected in the late second round, we would send him to college because I believe Jay can be a lottery pick.”

Since those comments talk around Scrubb has shifted more in the direction of the 20-year old playing for Louisville, but after closing the season strong for John Logan the NBA talk has returned and it has many Cardinal fans worried.

The worry comes with good reason. There’s a very legitimate chance that Jay Scrubb will never wear a Louisville uniform, and the sooner we accept that as fans the easier it will be to stomach if it happens. However, this year’s NBA Draft will be unlike anything we’ve seen before due to no fault of the league and it could play a major role in what the season outlook is like for 2020-21 for the Cardinals.

As we’ve seen across the country in the last few weeks, sporting events both near and far are being impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The NCAA, NBA, MLB, NHL, and several other professional sporting leagues have all had parts of their seasons suspended or canceled over the last few weeks and many have wondered whether leagues like the NFL will be impacted.

While there’s still plenty of time before the NBA Draft, the deadlines that lead up to the league’s annual event are all going to cause major impact for this year’s group of prospects. With the NBA season still in limbo, the date to declare is set for April 26 and players will still have to make the same decisions they’d make if there wasn’t a national crisis taking place. Not to mention pre-draft events like the Portsmith Invitation have already been delayed, travel bans have been put into place limiting face-to-face meetings, and the NBA Draft Combine could soon be moved or canceled altogether.

That is going to have a massive impact on a player like Scrubb, who by all accounts is a fringe top-60 player with a lot more question marks than answers. It’s obvious that NBA front offices are paying attention to Scrubb and just how dominant he’s been, but with the lack of success from JUCO players in the NBA, the pre-draft events were when he was going to be able to spend more time in front of scouts, answering those questions.

Ethan Rosenberg, an NBA-certified agent with Sports99, spoke about the upcoming NBA Draft and the impact COVID-19 will have. He said:

“I think the biggest thing right now is feeling out the impact and trying to answer all these questions that we’re left with. t’s not just as an agent, but players their families, coaches, people at the NBA level; everyone just has a lot of questions right now.

I think there’s going to be a lot more players returning next year to college just because there is that uncertainty with the draft. I think the people who have the biggest disadvantage right now are seniors, because if you’re a sophomore or a junior or a freshman and you’re kind of on the fringe of being drafted, at least you can fall back on going back to school another year.”

Scrubb’s chances of being a first-rounder are much higher this season in my opinion than they could be next year due to a number of factors. First, I can’t move on any further in this piece without mentioning how bad the draft is. While there’s a ton of talent across college basketball and international basketball, the quality doesn’t match anything like what we’ve seen recently.

Players who are projected at the top of the draft all are deserving of being there, but with the lack of star power and no one really cementing themselves outside of the top 10-15 players the chances for players like Scrubb to rise are there (as they are for Jordan Nwora). Should Scrubb wait for the 2021 draft, he’ll be competing with a class full of players who were impacted by the COVID-19 cancellations and returned to school as well as a combination of game-changing domestic and international stars.

While the JUCO ranks haven’t produced a draftable player since ’04, the recent success of Anfernee Simons of the Portland Trail Blazers as well as a few others who have been drafted straight from the prep level have opened the door to non-conventional draft journeys. No longer are coaches and GMs afraid of the unknown, instead, it seems every year one player with a ton of intrigue rises further than most expected.

All of that combined with the athleticism, talent, and overall hype surrounding Scrubb make the decision on whether to spend a year in college or go straight the NBA rather tricky and could leave Louisville’s roster in flux late into the summer.

For now, Chris Mack will have to operate from a roster perspective one day at a time, assuming Scrubb will be apart of the plans for 2020. We’ve detailed Louisville’s needs and the roster spots they’ll need to fill next season, and if Scrubb is on the roster it changes what the team needs and the type of players who could fill that role. There is still plenty of time for things to change and maybe the draft won’t be as impacted as many are guessing. But regardless, there’s no denying that the circumstances surrounding how important Scrubb is to the Cards next season.

Next: 5 transfers to watch for Louisville basketball

With Scrubb on the roster in 2020-21, Louisville has a chance to take another step forward. Without him, we could be looking at the first major rebuild for the Cards since the turn of the 2010s.

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