Wallace Prather III and Jabari Smith Sr. met 30 years ago when both were teenagers, playing basketball on the AAU basketball team Prather’s father founded, the Atlanta Celtics.
“I was probably 12, and he was probably 15,” Prather said last week. Smith went on to have a five-year career in the NBA, and Prather went on to become an agent who represented his childhood friend in the later years of his basketball playing career in Europe.
Now, three decades later, Prather is representing his friend’s son, Jabari Smith II, in this month’s NBA Draft, where he could be the No. 1 overall pick.
Analysts have focused on three players as the potential No. 1 pick in mock drafts: Smith, who played forward at Auburn; Chet Holmgren, who played forward and center at Gonzaga; and Duke forward Paolo Banchero. Holmgren is represented by veteran NBA agent Bill Duffy, who founded BDA Sports and partnered with WME Sports. Banchero is represented by former NBA player Mike Miller and now NBA agent who co-founded LIFT Sports.
Jabari Smith II could be the first player taken in this year’s NBA Draft.getty images
Leadership at the Orlando Magic, the team with the first pick, has been tight-lipped about their plans, so there may be some real suspense on NBA Draft night on June 23 at the Barclays Center.
Prather said Smith could “certainly” go No. 1 overall. That would be great, he said, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. “He wants a good partnership. He wants to be with a team where he can grow and he can learn and become a responsible young man. … It’s about the camaraderie among teammates. … We don’t have conversations about whether he is the No. 1 pick.”
While Smith Sr. went to LSU and was a second-round pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, Prather, who is 5 feet, 9 inches, went to Cornell, where he played point guard all four years and graduated, but didn’t have a shot at the NBA. Prather graduated in 2002, and got certified by the National Basketball Players Association in 2003. He’s worked at a few agencies, but now runs Prather Sports.
Prather has represented a high pick before: Derrick Favors, who was drafted No. 3 overall by the New Jersey Nets in 2010. He is now a forward with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Prather still represents him. He also represents Atlanta Hawks guard Lou Williams.
Prather feels blessed at this time in his life. “To be in the position to represent my friend’s son, someone with the potential to be a very high pick, it’s very humbling,” he said. “For me, man, it’s cool that someone can trust you to be part of that team. I enjoy the pressure of proving to his mom and his dad that I was an asset to that team.”
YEE FELLOWSHIP DRAWS INTEREST: Other NFL clubs have contacted veteran agent Don Yee since the Los Angeles Chargers announced late last month that they are partnering with Yee to start a summer fellowship program for people of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage.
The inaugural Donald H. Yee Fellowship Program will start this summer with one fellow being chosen to work with the front office staff for six weeks during the Chargers’ training camp.
“I am hoping if we can have a successful first iteration, we can expand this to other cities,” Yee said.
The program came about after Yee approached Ed McGuire, Chargers executive vice president, football administration and player finance, about the idea in early 2021.
“He had this idea that Asian Americans are a pretty under-represented group in the NFL and, ‘What do you think about it?’” McGuire related. “At that time, too, during the COVID days, there were a lot of threats and violence against Asian Americans. … It seemed like a great idea. Our leadership embraced it.”
The Chargers wanted to start the program last year, but COVID protocols got in the way. The Chargers are now taking applications and hoping to have a decision on a fellow by the end of June. “We finally got it off the ground this year and it really gives an opportunity to give young people who have not heard about the NFL as a potential opportunity,” McGuire said.
McGuire was pleased to hear that other NFL teams are reaching out to Yee about the program. “That is what we were hoping for,” he said.
“Look at our market; we have a pretty big Asian American and Pacific Islander population. And it’s a pretty good place to start.”
Asians and Pacific Islanders make up almost 16% of Los Angeles County’s population of nearly 10 million people.
Yee said that fact and that the Chargers are a relatively new team to the Los Angeles market was one reason he reached out to them with his idea. The program is “a way to signal to potential fans they are really putting a stake down in the community.”
It is an idea that Yee has been thinking about for a long time. “This whole thing is to give a young person an opportunity for a little bit of experience and some insight into how an NFL operation works.”
Yee’s agency, Yee & Dubin, represents about 35 players in the NFL, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. Asked if he was surprised when Brady decided to come out of retirement and keep playing, Yee said, “The only thing I can tell you is he always surprises me.”