Why Baylor coach Scott Drew thinks Raptors landed a gem in Ja'Kobe Walter

‘All the natural talent ability is there.’

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The Toronto Raptors landed a gem in Ja’Kobe Walter and judging him by his NCAA stats would be a mistake, Walter’s former coach says.

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Scott Drew, the long-time Baylor University bench boss, thinks that once Walter gets some NBA experience under his belt he’ll be an excellent addition for the Raptors.

“Ja’Kobe, he’s a pup. And what I mean by that is, physically, he’s going to continue to grow mature, but all the natural talent ability is there,” Drew told Postmedia in a recent phone interview. “He’s somebody that will be extremely coachable and and hardworking. So whatever the concept is, offensive and defensively, he’s going to fit in whatever they need him to do he’s going to do. And at the same time, he’s always going to be in the gym working on his craft,” Drew said. “He has the intangibles you can’t coach, though, and that is the desire to win, his competitiveness, being a great teammate. It’s all about winning. He could score four points or he could have 30, and if the team wins, he’s happy. If the team loses, he’s frustrated and wants to work harder to help them win,” Drew said.

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Toronto was thrilled to see Walter on the board still when the time came to make the 19th pick of the NBA draft last month. He had been a five-star recruit, ranked No. 8 in the U.S. just a year earlier and a McDonald’s All-American and Nike Hoop Summit participant, but other teams might have been scared off by his underwhelming numbers in his lone year at Baylor. Walter shot 37.6% from the field, including 34% on three-point attempts, with 6.3 of his 10.9 field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc.

When asked about the disparity between Walter’s rep as a deadly shooter vs. his NCAA results, Drew made a few salient points. For one, he noted, on average, Baylor faced the toughest defensive opponents of any NCAA team, according to Ken Pomeroy’s highly respected analytics. “So out of 363 (teams) nobody faced a tougher (group of defenders) than we did. And Ja’Kobe was our leading scorer for most of the year, so he was the number one guy focused on the scouting report, so he didn’t get a lot of great looks, and that affected his shooting percentage,” Drew said.

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While it’s true Walter will now be facing NBA defenders, he will no longer be game-planned against, with the likes of Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett and Gradey Dick drawing the attention of opponents.

Plus, there’s the eye test. “In our shooting competition, shooting games, he had the record last year, 41 threes in a row,” Drew said. “So, I mean, he’s a tremendous shooter.”

Walter also attempted 5.2 free throws a game, using a quick first step and toughness to get to the line, so he’s more than just a shooter.

Drew said all of the attention and responsibilities took a toll on him and he’ll also have to adjust to the NBA, but when he does, the upside is sky high. “Normally freshmen hit the wall. Normally rookies hit the wall. And when you work as hard as he does, you’re gonna go through some fatigue, but at the same time, that experience you gain allows you, in year two, three and four, to know when to work, how hard to work.

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“Part of being successful is being right off the court so he can be right on the court. And he definitely is a high-character guy. Has his priorities in line. He’s gonna buy in and get better because of that ability to be humble and hardworking.”

Drew has coached Baylor since 2003, taking that once-struggling program to an NIT title in 2013 and to the 2021 NCAA championship. So he knows a thing or two about turning things around. He thinks Walter can play a part in getting the Raptors back on the right path, even though the early lumps might be tough to take. Walter was a high school champion in Texas and went 24-11 at Baylor.

“I think he’s not gonna be happy losing, and he’s gonna work even harder, which is what you want, and at the same time, he’s gonna get better from it,” Drew said. “And sometimes we get better from failure rather than success. So I mean those are the people that turn around a program, though, the ones that are going to work hard be coachable and not be satisfied with losing because you’re young or inexperienced. Doesn’t guarantee they’re going to win, but it’s going to motivate them to work even harder and buy in more, to do whatever they can to win, and that’s what every coach and organization would want.”

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Toronto also traded for another star Drew pupil in guard Davion Mitchell, the No. 9 selection of the 2021 NBA draft and a driving force on the 2021 Bears title team. Drew thinks Mitchell will be both a helpful familiar face for Walter (Walter has said watching Mitchell play helped sell him on going to Baylor and they have hung out on campus too when Mitchell came back for alumni gatherings) and another strong addition for the Raptors who will not be outworked in the gym.

“First and foremost, Masai, the Raptors organization do a tremendous job, and they really do their homework, and there’s no surprise they would end up with outstanding young men, extremely hard workers, great teammates, like Davion and Ja’Kobe,” Drew said. “And I know one thing for sure: The gym lights are going to be on 24/7 guys with those guys on the team.”

It sounds like Drew will be keeping a close eye on the Raptors. As the call ended, he signed off with: “We are the north, baby!”


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