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Justinian Jessup in CU Buffs’ black-and-gold? It wasn’t meant to be

Asked to delay possible CU arrival, former Longmont star lands in NBA draft

JESSUP12442.jpg Longmont High School’s Justinian Jessup will play Division-I hoops next season at Boise State University. Lewis Geyer/Staff Photographer  March 21, 2016
JESSUP12442.jpg Longmont High School’s Justinian Jessup will play Division-I hoops next season at Boise State University. Lewis Geyer/Staff Photographer March 21, 2016

There wasn’t a network camera trained on the living room sofa, the family gathered around in electric anticipation.

Wesley Jessup’s reaction wasn’t laid bare for the world to see. Instead, restless and needing to check some chores off his to-do list after watching just the first few picks of the NBA draft, he was in the parking lot of the nearby grocery store when a Facetime call arrived from his son, former Longmont High and Boise State star Justinian Jessup.

Wesley knew immediately what the call meant. His son had just become the first Longmont prep player ever to get selected in the NBA draft.

“As soon I as saw him FaceTiming me I knew right then he had been drafted. He said, ‘Dad, I got picked. Fifty-first pick to the Golden State Warriors.’ And I just couldn’t believe it,” Wesley Jessup said. “It was an unbelievable moment for me. He immediately called his mom, my wife, and told her. We were sad that we all couldn’t be celebrating with him. That’s the ideal of course, just to be all together sitting on the couch just like all those other draftees.”

The unique story of Jessup’s draft night mirrored the unique path of Jessup’s basketball journey. And his selection in Wednesday night’s draft offered a reminder that, despite a legacy of recruiting the best prospects the state of Colorado has to offer, the kid in the University of Colorado’s back yard never suited up for coach Tad Boyle and the CU Buffs.

“It was about the right timing,” Boyle said. “And yeah, hindsight is 20-20. I knew Justinian was a good player. I knew he had the potential to be a very good player and that’s what he turned into. Would I have rather had him in a Buffs uniform? Absolutely, looking in hindsight. But, here’s what I would say — he may not have had the career he had at Boise State if he comes to Colorado.

“That’s the thing I think sometimes people forget. Was he good enough to play at Colorado? Absolutely, and I knew that at the time. I knew he was good enough. Was it the right time? Did we have a need for him in that particular spot in that particular year? He had the kind of career he did because he went to a spot where he could play early in his career. Recruiting is not an exact science.”

Indeed, Boyle and the Buffs did recruit Jessup, who played for Boyle’s good friend Jeff Kloster at Longmont. But their vision had Jessup going to a prep school for one year first, and then joining the Buffs with the 2017 freshman class — which, at the time, had commits from wing prospects Tyler Bey and D’Shawn Schwartz.

Instead, recruited heavily by then-Boise State assistant and current Wyoming coach (and Centaurus alum) Jeff Linder, Jessup joined the Broncos and was an immediate starter. He ended his career as the Mountain West Conference’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers (325).

In retrospect, Jessup was unlikely to receive significant playing time as a true freshman on a 2016-17 CU team full of veterans like Derrick White, Xavier Johnson, and George King. Even if he had redshirted, the vision concocted by the Buffs’ staff featured a frontcourt manned by Dallas Walton and Evan Battey, leaving Bey to play more of a wing role alongside Schwartz, whose skill set is similar to Jessup’s.

As it turned out, Battey being forced into a redshirt season in 2017-18 and Walton missing the following season due to injury led to Bey thriving in a post role that wasn’t necessarily the original design. The Jessups, of course, wish they could have watched Justinian play in black-and-gold. But they echo Boyle’s belief it was a matter of timing and finding the proper fit.

Justinian’s younger brother, Isaac Jessup, is a freshman walk-on this season with the Buffs. The Jessup brothers and Boyle’s sons also are good friends and former AAU teammates.

“We were looking for a fit, and Boise just seemed like a better fit at that time. So he went to Boise,” Wesley Jessup said. “Tad had a lot of really good advice during Justinian’s recruiting process. I talked to him a lot during that recruitment process and I loved that he was always very frank with me. Not every coach is like that. It was great being able to have somebody to call and talk to.”

Still, none of the homegrown scholarship recruits that have completed four-year careers at CU under Boyle — Xavier Talton, Josh Scott, Wesley Gordon, and Dominique Collier — ended up as NBA draft picks, an honor that did go to White, whose own unique basketball journey included three seasons at Division II UCCS. And though they were combo guards as opposed to Jessup’s skills as a small forward, the two scholarship freshmen Boyle did bring in for the 2016-17 season — Bryce Peters and Deleon Brown — had checkered careers that produced a combined 54 3-pointers. Or, 271 fewer than Jessup. (Brown played two and a half seasons before sitting, then transferring, due to academic issues; Peters was suspended for about a quarter of his lone season at CU).

“I think it’s the epitome of a kid going to the right spot. And Justinian did that. He went to the right spot for him at that point of his career,” Boyle said. “When I say we have regrets it’s not a regret of, ‘Oh, we missed on him.’ It’s just a regret that maybe we should have gone after him a little harder. Sometimes you make the right calls. Sometimes you make the wrong calls. Sometimes you don’t go as hard after a kid as maybe you should have, or maybe you put too much time into a kid than you should have.

“But I just couldn’t be happier for the Jessup family and Justinian and his little brother Isaac, who’s with us now.”