Culture / Sporting Life

Jay Bilas Impressed by UH Freshman Jarace Walker’s Lack of a Negative Ego, Sees Bigger Things Ahead For Marcus Sasser

ESPN's Lead College Basketball Voice Watches a New Star Let the Game Talk to Him

BY // 12.20.22

Jay Bilas watched from a center court front row seat — the perks of being the lead TV analyst for a network that pays billions to broadcast college basketball games — as Jarace Walker showed the hoops world just how talented he is. But Bilas is just as impressed with what the University of Houston’s super freshman isn’t.

Namely, not being all about himself.

“Very talented player,” Bilas tells PaperCity when the subject turns to Walker. “He doesn’t seem to have — he has the ego of a good player — but he doesn’t seem to have the negative way ego. He doesn’t look like he wants to skip steps.

“He’s obviously skilled and physically gifted. But he seems to blend in with his other teammates to do what’s required when it’s required.”

Walker certainly does everything UH needs in the 69-61 win at No. 2 Virginia that reminds everyone of just how dangerous this already 11-1 team could be in March. He scores inside, hits two triples, buries a stepback jumper to seal it that screams pro move, grabs seven rebounds and adds four assists. He is the best player on the floor in a very high level game, but Jarace Walker never makes it all about him.

That shows ESPN’s college basketball guru something. And Jay Bilas still sees plenty of “upside” in a Houston team that is already currently ranked No. 3 in the country — after spending time at No. 1 earlier in the season — because he believes Jarace Walker and Marcus Sasser are both going to get better and better as the season goes on.

Yes, Marcus Sasser, the senior preseason All-American guard who is in his fourth season playing for Kelvin Sampson.

“Any time you comeback from missing a year, it’s not going to be seamless,” Bilas says. “That’s a difficult thing to do. Ask anyone that’s ever done it. He’s one of the best guards in the country.”

Sasser missed the last 26 games of the 2021-2022 season with a broken foot, not playing after December 22nd. It’s been less than a year since he actually broke the foot, a fact Bilas thinks you’re missing if you’re concentrating on the fact Sasser’s currently shooting 40.7 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three after 12 games this season.

“Marcus is an outstanding player,” Bilas tells PaperCity. “He plays both ends of the floor. He’s ultra competitive so he can score at all three levels. He’s a very good defender and he’s a fighter.”

“He doesn’t seem to have — he has the ego of a good player — but he doesn’t seem to have the negative way ego. He doesn’t look like he wants to skip steps.” — ESPN analyst Jay Bilas on UH freshman Jarace Walker

Sometimes it seems like UH and Marcus Sasser loom over opponents. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Sometimes it seems like UH and Marcus Sasser loom over opponents. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

It would be surprising if Sasser’s shooting numbers don’t improve as the season goes on. This is the guy who hit five 3-pointers in the first half of a Final Four game. Marcus Sasser has always been able to shoot.

That expected return to form (Sasser shot 44 percent from 3-point range in those 12 games last season) is another reason this Houston team, which wraps up non-conference play with a home game against 3-9 McNeese State Wednesday, could just be getting started.

Jarace Walker, Jay Bilas and Letting the Game Talk to You

Walker certainly seems to be getting more and more comfortable. Take that stepback jumper in the final two minutes against Virginia. Even as one loud Virginia fan screamed “That’s a freshman shot!,” the McDonald’s high school All-American knew he was in control.

“I just kind of let the game talk to me,” Walker says. “I feel like that was the play to make at the time.”

While the shot caused Virginia coach Tony Bennett to compare it to a vintage Dirk Nowitzki jumper, the 19-year-old Walker will tell you he’s had that in his arsenal for a while.

“I’ve been hitting shots like that all throughout my high school career,” Walker says when I ask him if the stepback is something he’s been working on. “So it’s something I definitely put time in and worked on.

“It’s something I haven’t really shot as much this season.”

Walker’s teammates are urging him to exert himself more. To shoot his shots. To not defer. To grab the moment when the game talks to him.

“I tell him every day even though he’s a freshman, he can’t play like a freshman,” veteran forward J’Wan Roberts says. “He’s too important. We need him.”

A little ego is good. But Jay Bilas is impressed most by how the star freshman wants to fit into this Houston team and be part of the group.

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