ESPN's Jay Bilas speaks during ESPN's 'College GameDay' broadcast ESPN’s Jay Bilas speaks during ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ broadcast ahead of No. 4 Tennessee’s basketball game against No. 10 Texas at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. Kns Ut Basketball College Gameday

With the 2023 NBA draft on Thursday, it seemed like a good time to catch up with ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who is in his 21st year covering the event.

Awful Announcing spoke with Bilas about the top picks, previous draftees who didn’t live up to the hype, and other basketball (and non-basketball) topics. 

What interests you about this draft?

“Good depth of talent and obviously it has something we haven’t seen in a long time in a player like Victor Wembanyama. That’s the headline. It’s a deep draft of really athletic players. There are a lot of guys you can reasonably differ on as to where they should be, but a lot of guys that stack up as first-round players.”

What jumps off the screen about Wembanyama?

“Everything. We’ve never seen anything like this guy. He’s essentially a 7-4 guard. He’s not a traditional big guy. He blocks shots. Yes, he rebounds. But he also handles it like a 6-2 guy. He can shoot it. He impacts the game in so many ways. He’s unique. It’s like if Ralph Sampson were born now, he’d be raised in the game a different way. Victor was raised to play a complete floor game.”

Who would you take No.2 overall?

“Probably Brandon Miller because he can shoot it. Scoot Henderson is really dynamic and he’s going to be very, very good. He’s 6-2 with the length of a guy 6-9. But he doesn’t shoot it like Miller does. Miller can really shoot.”

Who’s the safest pick in this draft?

“There are a whole bunch of safe picks but in the lottery, you’re not looking for a safe pick. There are a number of guys who are NBA-ready right now. But it’s more about what guys are going to be in the future. Kris Murray is a safe pick because he can step in and be very good. Jaime Jaquez is a safe pick because he’s a really good all-around player that is already mature and he can play both ends of the floor. But I don’t think anyone is projecting him to be a superstar. .. Another safe pick would be Cason Wallace because he’s solid in every area.”

Who is the biggest risk?

“Everybody is a risk, the guys who are missing a piece. I think the Thompson twins (Amen and Ausar) are both going to be very good, but they’re not shooters. The same thing for Anthony Black. But all these guys are very talented players.”

What’s the most right you’ve been about a prospect?

“I don’t know. LeBron. How could you be wrong there?”

What’s the most wrong you’ve been about a prospect?

“Probably Greg Oden but that was injury related. I think if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, he would have been great. There haven’t been that many. I didn’t think Anthony Bennett should have been the first pick (in 2013). I might have had him slotted fifth or sixth. But he didn’t even live up to fifth or sixth. You’ve had players who didn’t live up to billing. They fooled a lot of people and for some, it’s hard to tell a reason why. I thought Darko Miličić was going to be good. He didn’t turn out to be worthy of the No.2 pick (in 2003). That kind of thing happens in every sport.”

Do you have any amusing stories of doing the draft over the years?

“Rece Davis having his office in the men’s room of the Barclays Center is always one of my favorites. We had a really small locker room that we were in. So, Rece had a little table in a portion of the men’s room. They actually dressed it up for him one year. He had a desk setup that looked like a real office. It was pretty funny… The most beautifully coiffed guy was spending most of his time in the men’s room before the broadcast.”

Turning to college basketball, if you’re West Virginia who do you hire?

“There are a lot of good candidates for it. If they can keep their players. they’ll be good right away. There are a lot of places to go. I don’t know exactly who I would hire but I would take my time to make sure it’s the right person.”

You have a law degree and have been an actor. Who’s your favorite fictional attorney?

“From literature, Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. From TV, it would probably be Rob Lowe’s character (Sam Seaborn) in The West Wing. I thought it was a well-written show, and he was a lawyer.”

Have you ever thought about getting back into acting?

“I’m still a member of the Screen Actors Guild. I don’t know. There are probably not a lot of roles for 6-8 bald actors these days now that the James Bond franchise has moved on from Richard Kiel. I haven’t really thought about it. I kind of moved away from that in the late ’80s when I took a job as an assistant on Coach K’s staff. Sure it would be fun to do. But I don’t know if that window is open, closed, painted shut, or whatever.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.