Playback speed
Share post
Share post at current time

My Up-Close View of the NBA Draft Class of 2023

Kentucky top recruit Cason Wallace is one of many future stars that I first filmed eight years ago in gyms around Dallas

PLANO, Texas — In 2014, I was struggling to earn a living in the world of professional basketball. I was an unpaid intern with the Texas Legends and earning income as a skills trainer, little league basketball coach and videographer. 

Although I had worked with several NBA players and built relationships by breaking down their game film and creating vlogs documenting their lives on YouTube, I was still barely making enough money to keep my lights on and to pay for my studio apartment outside of Dallas. 

I was so eager to work with professional athletes that I grossly undercharged for my time and services out of fear I would be replaced by someone more advanced or even cheaper. 

After all, being in an NBA player's inner circle was very rewarding. I had good seats to NBA games, received free merchandise and in 2014 was lucky enough to attend Carmelo Anthony’s exclusive invite-only Pro Week in New York City featuring Kevin Durant, Kemba Walker, J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tobias Harris, to name just a few. 

Despite some amazing experiences, I was broke and close to getting my car repossessed. While I believed I was good enough behind the camera to earn more income, I had failed at the business side — particularly in knowing what to charge for my services — so I needed to come up with a Plan B.

NBA Big Board
New mecca for elite basketball prospects
Dallas is known for football. The Cowboys are “America’s Team” and their star emblem — representing “The Lone Star State” — is among the most iconic logos in sports. NBA Big Board is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid su…
Read more

While playing rec league basketball with my brothers, I was introduced to Matt Steffe, a former college basketball coach who had recently formed a superteam of some of the top fourth graders in the Dallas area — a team within the D1 Shooters program — and was looking for a team videographer to film games. 

Steffe raved about how talented his group was, saying often how special it would be, not only locally but nationally, with several high major Division I prospects. I assumed he was a typical father who really just wanted footage of his son Drew — who is indeed a four-star recruit and a Texas Tech commit in the class of 2023.

I needed the money, so I agreed, even though I felt like I was taking a step back by filming kids who were years away from being old enough to take algebra. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that these were not your normal fourth and fifth graders: They were skilled, competitive and way more advanced than I’d expected. 

I’d be lying if I said I was projecting some of the players to develop into NBA prospects, but I did save several players' names in my iPhone notes just in case they panned out. 

It’s nearly impossible to predict the long-term development of 9- and 10-year-olds, especially those players who mature earlier than their peers, those who lose motivation and those who ultimately lack the ideal positional size to play high-level college basketball. 

Despite hearing Matt’s boasts and noting the talent I was seeing, little did I know I was filming a legendary class in Dallas that would go on to feature five McDonald’s All-Americans and a number of Power Five recruits. The 2022 D1 Shooters, as they were named, produced five players that have committed to Division I schools for basketball and two for football, including Omari Abor, a top-100 recruit expected to compete for the starting defensive end role at Ohio State as a true freshman.

One player who caught my attention in those days was Cason Wallace, now a projected lottery pick in next June’s draft who will be playing for Kentucky this fall. At the time, Wallace was not the best player on his team, but he did a little of everything on the floor and was a major contributor to his team’s success. In my notes I compared him to a “4th grade Lamar Odom” because he was tall for his size and could rebound, handle the ball, defend every position and impact games while playing from the post but without being the leading scorer. 

Looking back at old footage — which also features Baylor’s Keyonte George, another projected first-round pick — I was spot-on about Wallace’s versatility and defense (except that these days he is six or seven inches shorter than the 6’10” Odom ) and completely wrong about some others. 

Over the next few years, I ended up spending significant time living in Istanbul and Beijing, and I shifted my focus to scouting and NBA draft-related content.

Wallace and his brother Keaton (who played last season for the Ontario Clippers of the G League) were two of a handful of players whose names I would regularly google to check out their box scores throughout the season. Keaton was the teammate of a player my brother James trained and the cousin of former NBA player Terrel Harris, whom I knew from my days working for the Texas Legends. 

After retiring, Harris started Champion Skills Academy and quickly became one of the go-to trainers for the top middle school and high school players in Dallas. James and Terrel trained their clients out of the same gym, so I’d often see the Wallace brothers working out together, with Cason holding his own competing with players five years older.

Cason Wallace produced on both ends at the 2022 Jordan Brand Classic. (Chris Kohley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

By 2021, Cason bloomed into a five-star recruit and established himself as arguably the best two-way player in the country after wowing scouts with his performance on both sides of the ball at the Peach Jam last summer.

Wallace concluded his high school career as a consensus top-10 recruit and was named the 2022 Texas Gatorade Player of the Year and Dallas Morning News Player of the Year. He was selected to participate in the Jordan Brand Classic and also joined four other Dallas-area natives in the McDonald’s All-American Game. 

As he enters his freshman season in Lexington, as the prize recruit in John Calipari’s recruiting class, he’ll have the opportunity to follow the footsteps of John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyler Herro and Tyrese Maxey as one-and-done backcourt stars and first-round picks. 

When speaking with different NBA personnel about Wallace as an NBA prospect, they shared the same thoughts as Calipari: Wallace was consistently praised for his impact and playing winning basketball. 

Here is what I heard from three NBA scouts:

He’s a dog. He’ll impact winning on the defensive end from the jump.

Cason is one of the most competitive kids I’ve seen. He can impact the game in multiple ways, similar to Jrue Holiday.

The kid is a flat-out winner. I think he’s only lost two or three games (EYBL and high school) dating back to last summer.

Eight years ago, I was disappointed I was filming fourth graders for additional income and began to question my future as a videographer. Little did I know, if this season goes according to plan, that I was making some much-needed extra cash filming future NBA lottery picks.

NBA Big Board
NBA Big Board
Rafael Barlowe