Inside the amazing, convoluted journey MarJon Beauchamp took from Yakima to the NBA draft

Inside the amazing, convoluted journey MarJon Beauchamp took from Yakima to the NBA draft

MarJon Beauchamp found out on Wednesday he was one of 20 players invited to sit with his family in the green room at the NBA draft in Brooklyn, an honor reserved for those expected to be picked highest next week.

“I was the last (green room) selection, but I feel like that’s part of my story,” Beauchamp said with a soft chuckle by phone from Charlotte, where he was preparing for one of a dozen or so pre-draft workouts with NBA teams.

And what an amazing, convoluted story Beauchamp has woven as he sits on the verge of an NBA career that has been a lifetime dream — an obsession, really — but seemed a dim possibility just a year ago. Now he’s projected to go anywhere from as high as No. 8 to early in the second round, with most mock drafts pegging him No. 20 to 26 overall.

Beauchamp will be alongside other local stars including O’Dea’s Paulo Banchero and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren Thursday night, while Garfield standout Tari Eason is also expected to be taken in the first round.

“I feel like everything I went through prepared me for this moment,” Beauchamp said. “The struggles, the adversity I went through, it only made me stronger. I feel like a lot of people didn’t have to go through this, so I feel ready. I’m just excited that I’m in this situation. And I always knew I would be in the situation, but I just didn’t know when.”

It’s a story that began in his hometown of Yakima, where Beauchamp started to make a name for himself on the AAU youth hoops circuit — so much so that he caught the attention of Brandon Roy, newly named coach at Nathan Hale. MarJon and his dad, Jon Beauchamp, took off to live in Seattle after eighth grade to play for Roy, winning a state title as a freshman. They followed Roy to Garfield, winning another title as a sophomore before moving yet again, this time to Rainier Beach, to play his junior year.

It was at Beach in 2018-19, under coach Mike Bethea, that Beauchamp really blossomed, averaging 26 points, 11 rebounds and five assists and winning Metro League Player of the Year as the Vikings finished fifth in state. And then, seeking an even higher level of play, Beauchamp took off one more time, this time to Arizona, to play his senior year at Dream City Christian School in Glendale — his fourth high school in four years. Dream City is a private school that plays many of its home games in, of all places, Kentucky, as part of the “Grind Session” circuit, chock full of Division 1 prospects.

Beauchamp, a 6-foot-6 wing, was one of those five-star prospects, ranked 40th in the country by ESPN, but he made yet another unorthodox move after high school. Instead of going to college — he was heavily recruited by Washington and most of the D-1 powerhouses — Beauchamp elected to cast his lot in San Francisco with former NBA trainer Frank Matrisciano. Beauchamp was the first client in Matrisciano’s “Chameleon BX” program, designed to get players ready for the NBA draft without attending college. Training as hard as he ever had in his life in the summer of 2020, and reaping the benefits, Beauchamp was aiming for the 2021 draft. But when COVID-19 hit with a vengeance, Matrisciano had to shut things down.

“That was the wild card. COVID came out of nowhere and kicked us in the gut, man,” Jon Beauchamp said. “Just when you thought you had the right answer to what was going on in our lives, boom. He’s becoming the Superman that you thought he would be, and then COVID.”

Beauchamp, despondent, returned to Yakima early in 2021. Chameleon was supposed to have exposed him to NBA personnel, but COVID thwarted that. Suddenly, he wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and his basketball future was muddled. And then Beauchamp caught COVID himself. It was, he said, the low point of his life.

“Depressed is too strong a term, but he was definitely having some ‘woe is me’ type feelings,” said Ray Funk, a longtime family friend who is athletic director at Yakima Valley College. “Here he went from being on some draft boards back then, and definitely a high-major type player, but everything, all the opportunities, kind of dried up.”

“The depressing part was coming home,” added Jon Beauchamp. “Coming home after all those moves we made. I didn’t want him here. I mean, it’s awesome. We love Yakima. We’re from Yakima. But when you’re in that little mode, or that little mood, Yakima could be a sinkhole.”

Beauchamp and his dad looked into colleges, but realized the best place for MarJon was right under their nose. With Yakima Valley College resuming its season on a limited basis in March 2021, Beauchamp enrolled in school and played for the Yaks, joining a group of his old childhood buddies. The coach, London Wilson, was a longtime friend of MarJon’s mother, Denise Pleasant. It was a rejuvenating experience for Beauchamp, who scored 50 in one game and averaged 30.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists over the 12-game season.

He’s so ready for the NBA, it’s not funny.

“After not playing for a year and a half, getting to play with some friends that I grew up playing with and being coached by people that I grew up with, was just what I needed,” Beauchamp said. “Coach London would always tell me, you’re going to play for me one day. It’s crazy how it came full circle. And, man, it was an amazing experience, because I found the love for the game again.”

Added Jon Beauchamp: “It was a beautiful thing, because he didn’t get to play high school here. The only bad part was Yakima didn’t get to see him because they didn’t let anyone in the gym for the games (because of COVID).”

Suddenly, the radar was back on Beauchamp. Funk, also an assistant coach at YVC, recalls a Houston Rockets scout showing up for a Yaks game. Beauchamp’s winding road to the NBA had one more detour left: Last September, he accepted an offer to play in NBA’s G League with Ignite, a team understood mainly of recent high-school graduates and international players looking for an alternative route to the NBA. Ignite had three players selected in the 2021 NBA draft, including No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green and No. 7 Jonathan Kuminga, and could have three first-rounders in Thursday’s draft.

The G League turned out to be a fortuitous landing spot for Beauchamp, who averaged 15.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists for Ignite and shot up the mock draft boards. The exposure to NBA executives was priceless.

“I remember the first couple of practices, scouts were in there, Mike Schmitz (ESPN’s NBA draft analyst) was in there, and everyone was like, ‘Who is this kid?’” Beauchamp said. “As the season kept going, you’d see mock drafts where the highest was, I think, 11, after not being on mock drafts at all before the season. It’s just crazy to see where I am now.”

Rainier Beach’s Bethea looks at Beauchamp’s hoops game and sees Golden State’s Jordan Poole, a first-round pick in 2019, as a comp.

“He can shoot from anywhere, he can score off the dribble, he’s really long and I think his best basketball is going to be ahead of him,” Bethea said. “He and I used to talk about it. I think he could be a heck of a defender with those long arms. He reminds me of a longer version of Baby Boy (former Husky Dejounte Murray, now starring for the San Antonio Spurs), as far as stature. I mean, Dejounte has proved it in the NBA, and MarJon still has to, but that’s what he reminds me of — a long seven-foot something wing span, right? He’s athletic. He has all the tools to become a good NBA player.”

As he makes the pre-draft circuit, working out for teams, Beauchamp believes that his nomadic career, while trying at times, will serve him well in the NBA.

“I feel like I can come on to any basketball system, and I’ll figure it out,” he said. “That’s what I took from going to four different schools. I can come in right away and play.”

Or as his dad put it, “He’s so ready for the NBA, it’s not funny.”

Beauchamp feels closely connected to the Seattle basketball community, but he also cherishes his roots in Yakima, where his grandfather, Henry Beauchamp, was the first African-American mayor. MarJon has told Funk and others that he plans to give back to the community, including helping renovating the Henry Beauchamp Community Center. Funk calls MarJon “a great kid — a very nice, authentic, loyal type of kid. I’ve known him a long time, and he’s the kind of guy who will give you the shirt off his back.”

“Yakima’s always going to be my first place in my heart, because that’s where it all started,” Beauchamp said. “My dad pushed me hard like make it out of there. He always had me in the gym, staying away from the negative stuff, and he paid off. Yakima has always had the most support there always, and they still support me. There’s always going to be love for them.”

Beauchamp, now 21, admits that it wasn’t easy to leave Yakima after his eighth-grade year.

“Looking back at that, it was definitely tough on me,” he said. “Leaving my friends and not going to high school with them, leaving my mom and little brother and sister, because they didn’t come with us. My mom sacrificed a lot for me to not be in my life for four years, and looking back, I kind of feel it affected me mentally. But I got through it. And we got through it.”

Asked when he first felt MarJon could be an NBA player, Jon Beauchamp replied, “Seven.”

And now that it’s on the brink of happening, after a route that is about as untraditional as can be imagined — though perhaps it will be less so in the future as the fabric of college sports is being substantially altered — Jon said: “We pretty much followed our process. We didn’t really fall into other people’s ideals or processes.”

He added, “I’ve made some tough decisions along the way. It was a long road, but we did it. Me and him did it together. It was kind of a soul-searching deal — on my part, too. MarJon did all the work. He got himself there. It was a struggle to keep his mindset. But he held strong.”

Now the final steps of that journey are days away. On Thursday, MarJon and his family will sit in the green room and hear his name called — likely in the first round of the NBA draft.

“It doesn’t even feel real, to be honest,” MarJon said. “But I can’t wait for that day.”

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