Let’s rewind back to 2018 when Jarace Walker is 14 years old. His favorite basketball player is Paul George and he listens to hip-hop artist Meek Mill to calm him down before his youth basketball games.
Fast forward five years – Walker walks across the stage at the 2023 NBA Draft after being selected eighth overall. Drafted by the Washington Wizards, Walker was then acquired by the Indiana Pacers via trade – the same team his favorite NBA player George was drafted to in 2010. As if that coincidence wasn’t enough, Meek Mill was in the building as Walker learned his NBA fate to complete a the full-circle moment.
His 14-year-old-self nods in approval.
“I don’t think he would believe it, honestly,” Walker said about his younger self. “I honestly didn’t expect myself to get to this point.”
Maybe Walker couldn’t see it, but he was destined for stardom. In 2018, he was dunking over his peers with ease at the Jr. NBA Global Championship where he competed against some of the world’s top talent including Cason Wallace and Gradey Dick.
And now in 2023 – all three lottery picks are NBA bound.
Walker became the highest draft pick from the University of Houston since Hakeem Olajuwon went first overall in 1984. He also became the first of three Jr. NBA alumni to be selected in the NBA Draft, though his peers were not far behind. Wallace was selected at No. 10 by the Dallas Mavericks then acquired by Oklahoma City Thunder via trade, and Dick was selected three picks later at No. 13 by the Toronto Raptors.
“I’m living my dream right now. Going to the Draft and getting drafted … that’s what my dream is,” said Wallace during the NBA Draft Combine in May. The former McDonalds All-American and Texas Gatorade Player of the Year joins fellow Kentucky Wildcat Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in Oklahoma City as part of a young and hungry core with championship aspirations.
Wallace was part of the first group of middle-school aged players to compete in the Jr. NBA Global Championship in 2018, which featured the top 32 boys and girls teams from around the world.
Also in that inaugural group was Dick’s Kansas team who would come out on top.
“When I went to that Jr. NBA Championship, I wasn’t really on the radar with anyone,” said Dick. “After that point I started getting recruited […] and later on into Kansas.”
The 6-foot-8 wing looks forward to learning and making an impact for his new squad, as well as the chance to play in front of hip-hop artist and Raptors fan Drake in Toronto. “I need him to wear my jersey. That’s my priority,” Dick said.
The Jr. NBA continues to engage some of the nation’s most highly recruited basketball players as part of the Jr. Court of Leaders leadership development program with 12 leaders from that group in attendance on Draft night.
Those young hoopers watched in amazement Thursday night, imagining that some day their names could be called. We’ll wait and see. But there should be plenty of hope with the three Jr. NBA Alumni in Walker, Wallace and Dick prepped to make their NBA mark.