Justinian Jessup's game is getting more NBA-ready by the day, and he credits the NBL for a whole lot of that growth.
When the sharp-shooting guard signed with the Illawarra Hawks as a part of the NBL's Next Stars program, he began what may be a new trend for an American college graduate: the idea of 'pre-stashing' one's self.
The Golden State Warriors selected Jessup with the 51st overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft knowing exactly what the next year would look like for their new draftee. He'd spend a season under renowned coach Brian Goorjian, competing and developing in the NBL, before the team found the right time was to bring him into the franchise.
It's a process that may pick up steam over the next few years, too, because there's a growing understanding of how the style and level of play in the NBL can be beneficial for a player's growth. In the NBL, there's structure on both ends of the floor, and a kind of physicality that can expedite development.
"Just so much more is allowed," Jessup told ESPN, on how physical the NBL is.
"I'm not sure if that's just the rules or if that's how the NBL is reffed. You're just allowed to play more physical. It's not like the athletes are far superior here than they are in high-level college basketball, but it's just you're allowed to do so much more; your hands, off the ball."
It wasn't long until Jessup felt the full force of that physicality. After several impressive outings in the NBL preseason, he immediately became one of the Hawks' key offensive weapons, drawing the attention of opposing teams.
New podcast. Justinian Jessup joined me to talk about his season with the @illawarrahawks, the difference between the college and NBL game, his reaction to the Golden State Warriors sending a scout to Australia, his evolution as a shooter, and more.https://t.co/hKJA4PgYcC— Olgun Uluc (@OlgunUluc) April 28, 2021
A few games into the regular season, Jessup was being double-teamed, and the ball was being forced out of his hands.
"Earlier in the year, when I had a few good games and teams would start loading up (on me), it was definitely something new for me," Jessup said.
"You're allowed to play more physical here than you are in college, so there is an adjustment period there, for sure. I still really believe that, (in) those bad games that I have, I'm just getting in my own way. It's because of me, not because of the defence. That's been a great part about this year, just the opportunity to grow and learn and just how to overcome those barriers, and not get in my own way on the court.
"I think the aggressive defence and teams throwing whatever at me has just brought that process a lot quicker."
Jessup had to adjust to that extra attention, and though it's led to some inconsistent performances throughout the season, his overall output has been impressive, with the Colorado-native averaging 14.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists, while shooting 40 percent from downtown.
Those who kept a close eye on Hawks games quickly learned just how good of a shooter Jessup was -- a player whom you can't give an inch of space, or abandon a split-second of your attention -- and the Warriors were among them. Midway through the NBL season, the Warriors decided to send a scout, Michael Lee, to Australia to oversee Jessup's development; a show of faith from the franchise that lifted the 22-year-old's spirits.
"It boosted it a lot," Jessup said of how the Warriors' decision helped his confidence.
"I guess it is a little reassuring that they're serious about me as a prospect... It helped my confidence a lot, and just gave me a little comfort, I guess.
"But, at the same time, I'm still trying to be where my feet are and focus on this season, and just stay present in this year."
The NBL hasn't always been a hotbed for draft-and-stash prospects. In fact, it's a relatively recent development, and one of the developments of the Next Stars program. Didi Louzada played one and a half seasons with the Sydney Kings after being drafted by the Pelicans, and was just recently signed a multi-year deal with the NBA franchise.
Jessup will be the next stash player to make that jump, and he sees the potential for the NBL to continue that trend, because of how uniquely placed the league is.
"Coming from college, I feel like my confidence and my freedom on the court has gone to a whole other level, and it still has more I can tap into," Jessup said.
"I think, mentally, especially here in the NBL, where everybody speaks English, Australia's a somewhat similar country to America; in terms of the lifestyle transition, it's made the basketball part so much easier. I'm able to focus on all of those things. Maybe stress off the court is just non-existent, as opposed to maybe you go to a European country; it's freezing, nobody speaks English, and maybe you're not getting enough playing time, whatever.
"Those extra stressers off the court here in Australia, in the NBL, they don't really exist. I think that just makes my job a whole lot easier.
"So, I think it's gonna prepare me a lot. Every (NBL) team has those fringe NBA guys, or guys who have made stops in the NBA. Playing against those dudes and being able to produce against those teams and those guys just, once again, gives me more confidence. It's another stepping stone along to the path to where I wanna go."