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

TUALATIN — Shaedon Sharpe is a man of few words.

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

But the Portland Trail Blazers didn’t select Sharpe with the No. 7 pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft because of his gift for gab. They selected him to be a foundational piece for the team’s present and future.

“I’m prepared 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 getting out there trying to impact the game. Really, whatever to help the team.”

It’s anyone’s guess as to how much the 19-year-old, who spent one season at Kentucky but didn’t play a single game for the Wildcats, can contribute right away to a team that expects 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 strong 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 flanked by general manager Joe Cronin and coach Chauncey Billups.

“We got two really, really good players,” Billups said. “Really talented guys that I’m really, really looking forward to pouring into. So, I can’t wait for that.”

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

Sharpe landing with the Blazers was touch-and-go on a couple of levels. First, the Blazers were in trade discussions with teams the pick but, according to Cronin, came away underwhelmed by the offers they received.

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

“We thought there were a few teams ahead of us that could take him,” Cronin said. “So, through those moments, those are the stressful/enjoyable parts of the draft where the unknown is so prevalent that you’re waiting and waiting. Then when you hear a certain name called and you know your guy gets to you, that creates that energy in that room. That celebration. That happiness.”

The Blazers believe that had Sharpe played for Kentucky last season or next season, he could have been a higher draft pick. Sharpe has exceptional athleticism to go along with uncommon skills for a player of 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 during the 2022 NBA draft at Barclays Center on June 23, 2022, in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)Getty Images

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

“We all left there kind of amazed at his ability,” Billups said.

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

Sharpe, a top-three recruit in the nation coming out of high school, said he planned to redshirt his first season at Kentucky and play next season. He wanted to grow physically, get stronger and work on his overall skills.

“I was just getting ready for the next season,” he said. “I felt like I was able to practice with the guys, get to know the system.”

But, when his name began to rise on draft boards, he changed his plans and entered the draft. That left the only available game video of him coming from high school and club teams. A similar situation played out with Anfernee Simons in 2018 when he elected not to attend Louisville and the Blazers selected him 24th overall after a season at IMG Academy in Florida.

Billups said he watched as much game video on Sharpe as possible but, most importantly, 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 quiet guy, as you can see. A very humble, quiet guy. He really reminds me a lot of Ant, to be honest, personality-wise.”

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

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

Not at all.

“I left there so impressed,” Billups said. “He stayed composed the entire time. He had this really quiet confidence about him that I really loved. He was very, very competitive in the workout. I was impressed with his feet, defensively. I didn’t see those things on tape because he didn’t have to guard anybody in high school for the most part. But I was really impressed with him.”

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

“He has some things, some skills and some gifts that a lot of people in this entire 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 becoming serious about basketball as a high school sophomore 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. That led to his name rising up recruiting rankings.

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

“I wasn’t playing for about a year,” Sharpe said. “I love to get out there and compete with the guys. So, I missed it a lot.”

Billups, a star point guard for Colorado in the 1990s, had a far better read on Walker than he did Sharpe during the draft process.

Oregon vs.  Colorado at 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 quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 tournament Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)AP

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

Billups 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 motor, he has a knack for defensive rebounding,” Billups said. “He’s just talented.”

For those reasons, and maybe at least a little bit because of the collegiate ties, Billups became excited when Walker remained available for the Blazers to scoop up in the second round.

Walker said he loves the fit.

“It’s not about where you get drafted, it’s about fit,” he said. “I feel like right at home. I just feel like this is perfect for me.”

Walker said his father did a lot in terms of helping him understand the pro game.

“Just playing the right way,” Walker said. “Rebound. Having a knack for the little things. I credit my dad for teaching me how to play the right way.”

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

“It’s just now starting to feel real for me because I had about 12 workouts where I just walked through a bunch of facilities,” Walker said. “And now I’m finally settling down and this should start to feel like home pretty soon.”

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

“It’s hard to take somebody off the floor if they do those at a high level,” he said.

Sharpe said pretty much the same.

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

Those similar themes and traits will guide Cronin during the summer. Free agency begins July 6.

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

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

But talent is talent, and the Blazers need more of it.

“We realized we’re not good enough, and we’re trying to get better,” Cronin said. “And to do that, you got to go out and get really good players. This is a start.”

— Aaron Fentress | [email protected] | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

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