The Jay Scrubb (coach) interview
In honor of his first NBA points, dropping this interview
Whattup Unstatables. Been a while. Lou Will got traded and I went underground. (Or I guess, deeper underground.)
Back in last offseason when I was working on the Unstatable Zine — still a thing, by the way — I hit up Jay Scrubb’s junior college head coach to tell me who and what the Clippers were getting with the 55th pick in the draft. Now, with just a couple games left in the season, he’s started to play a little, and last night, in his second game he bagged his first pair of NBA points at the free throw line.
Scrubb, for those who don’t know his backstory, took an unconventional route from his hometown of Louisville to the NBA. He couldn’t get a D-I scholarship because he had bad grades, so he played a season at John A. Logan, a junior college in Cincinnati. After one season tearing up the juco circuit, he had a bunch of offers. He entered the draft instead.
John A. Logan’s coach, Kyle Smithpeters, talked to me a few days after the Clippers picked him. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Did you have a sense of where he was going to go in the draft?
It was so hard to tell just from the way things played out with Covid, because not a lot of people got to watch him work out in person. The thing with Jay, is when you watch him work out in person is where it’s extremely impressive, because of how smooth he is, watching hit 12, 13, 14 shots in a row.
Quite honestly, the Clippers had spent a large amount of time here during the season watching him. So I was very excited from that standpoint because they did spend a lot of time here watching him, and knowing exactly what he is and what his potential is. That’s gone hand in hand of me feeling good about the pick.
Take me back to the very beginning. How did you meet Jay?
We recruited him. He’s a Louisville kid, and we’re about 2 hours from Louisville. I’d heard about him — he wasn’t an overly highly rated kid. We knew he was talented. But we had a couple players here who knew Jay and had played with him and told us, ‘Hey, we need to look at this guy.’
I remember watching him and thinking he was very talented, but saw he was overweight. But once he came in, the way he started working, it was about how quickly he got better.
I try to tell people all the time, I don’t want to take any credit. Jay is the one who came in and did the work. He busted his tail, stayed extra, did extra lifts and extra work, and did a great job positioning himself to be a potential NBA draft pick. He’s a young kid, and he’s got a lot of promise, and he’s extremely gifted in a lot of areas of basketball.
What about your impressions of him as a person?
I remember, I went and watched him practice. That was the first time I had seen him. I sat there, and started taking notes on my phone. He was cutting some corners. Afterwards I went over and met him, said hey I’m Coach Kyle, John A. Logan, and I showed him on my phone a list of about 30 things that he didn’t do. He started looking at them, he kinda smiled. I said, are those inaccurate? He said no. I said you wanna look at the rest of them? He said, No, I don’t.
I said, if you want to go somewhere, man, where we can make you better, push you, get you accountable, then we’re the place for you. If you’re looking for a best friend, and you’re okay with doing these things, we’re not gonna be the best place for you. He’s the one who made the decision to come in and be part of that.
What were some of the things you jotted down?
He had a drill where he was supposed to do 10 pushups, he did seven. Coach had a drill where you’re supposed to take three dribbles to the end of the floor, he took four.
“I don’t want to take any credit. Jay is the one who came in and did the work.”
So tell me how he changed since then.
The big thing was accountability. Jay did a really good job his freshman year, had some really good leaders around him, and Jay took it to the next level his sophomore year of being accountable. Granted, Jay had never had a lot of success, a lot of limelight. He went from being a junior college player to all of a sudden being invited to Team USA basketball, the Nike Academy. You know, early on in our season, he let a lot of it get to his head. He had to experience that downfall, he wasn’t playing well, he wasn’t doing all the things that made him great. It was good to see that once that balloon popped, that he went back to doing the things that got him in that situation, by working hard. He got a bit of humble pie and was able to revert to the things that made him successful.
It was honestly a blessing for him in the long run, because here was someone who never had notoriety in high school, being recruited, but shoot, now you got everyone in the country recruiting you from John Calipari to Roy Williams, and you’re a Louisville kid, going to your hometown school as a premier recruit and he’d just turned 19 at the time. He’d never experienced those things before, and we started the season off very rough. When he got back to doing the things that made him successful, we won I think 24 of our last 25 games, and obviously he was playing at an extremely high level.
He had a pretty challenging situation at home, difficult upbringing, and had trouble finding traction academically. Was Logan’s program the first time he really had that consistency in an academic environment?
Yeah. And he had dug such a big hole academically, it didn’t really matter from the standpoint of an NCAA qualifier, he just wasn’t going to make it. That allowed us to put a lot of emphasis on that because here he could start over and work himself up into the NCAA’s graces. And he did a good job of taking advantage of that situation.
Now that the draft is over, you can tell us what the Clippers’ interest in him was like.
I wanna say they sent four different scouts. They had upper management come in on a couple of occasions. They spent a lot of time and effort knowing exactly who Jay Scrubb was.
You say upper management you mean Lawrence Frank, or…?
Trent Redden came in for three days.
Not a lot of guys picked 55th stick in the NBA. What will be the key for Jay?
It’s one of those things where if Jay goes to Louisville for a year, and people see him working out, he’d be a first round pick in next year’s draft, easily. I had GMs, people saying to me that he’s a top-15 talent in the draft. I think a lot of the uncertainty was because of Covid — people really weren’t able to come see him. Nevertheless, he’s in an organization that really knows a lot about him — that’s what made me feel really good about it. And then knowing how young he is and the potential that he has.
I always ask coaches for one anecdote. How are you going to remember Jay?
I think you can always tell a person’s true character by seeing how they are with kids. And I remember one day walking into my office and my son Toby is on his shoulders and they’re just playing by themselves. Seeing a person of Jay’s background, Jay’s character being able to interact and be around young kids, I think that says volumes about who he is as a person. He had the world on a string and a lot of things going for him, but he always showed a lot of courtesy, a lot of humbleness, and a lot of gratitude toward the people supporting him.