After just one season at Alabama, 18-year-old Josh Primo decided to test the waters of going pro. Keeping his options open with the ability to go back to school for a sophomore season if needed, he wanted to see what the NBA pre-draft process was all about.
While this is often a process young college players go through before returning for another year, Primo's path was a bit different.
“Honestly, going into it, it was just to test the waters,” Primo told SI. “I didn’t have any idea that I’d be this far, moving up this fast. I came into it with an open mind, just trying to be the best player I possibly could be, working as hard as possible, and just trying to learn.”
By the time the combine came around, it became clear that Primo had made the right decision. After a spectacular showing, he started rising up draft boards and gaining the attention of scouts and front offices across the league.
“I think what people were able to see was that for me being so young, I was able to communicate with my teammates really well, be a leader out there on the floor, show a little bit of my playmaking skills and being able to defend,” said Primo. “I think across the board, just going out there and showing I can compete at a high level. There’s a real competitive spirit within me and I was able to show that well.”
What’s perhaps the most intriguing to teams is Primo’s age. Just 18 years old, he’s the youngest player in the 2021 NBA Draft and will be the youngest player in the entire league next season. In fact, he won’t turn 19 until two months into his rookie year.
He knows that this is an advantage for him and looks forward to the challenge. Being the intelligent young player that he is, Primo understands how impactful playing with professionals will be from a development standpoint.
“The best part about it is knowing that I’m going to learn so much at this age that I’m at right now,” said the Alabama prospect. “Being able to come into the league and learn those things first hand that I might not have learned going back an extra year. I know that at 21 or 22, I’m going to be a lot better off for this. I’ll have that much more knowledge.”
By the time Primo is 25, he’ll be an NBA veteran with upwards of seven years of experience. To the right team, that makes him as attractive as nearly any prospect.
With that in mind, being the youngest guy on the court isn’t anything new to Primo.
He represented Canada in the 2019 FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup at just 16 years old as the youngest player on the team. Additionally, in both high school and AAU basketball, he frequently played with guys many years older than him.
Primo considers playing up as something that’s helped him get to where he is now and will prepare him for the NBA.
“I think it was one of the biggest pieces for myself. I’ve always played up, whether it’s one, two, or three years up. I came into it giving everything I have, knowing I’m a basketball player and so is everyone else. Coming into every situation doing what I know how to do I think gives you that type of confidence that you can play in any situation. You’re able to adapt.”
Primo is in a unique position with the opportunity to become the next great Canadian player in the NBA. Over the past few years, more high-level talent has come from Canada, with players turning into stars all over the league.
“This last decade has been great for Canadian basketball. A lot of the guys I came up with are doing really well in this league,” said Primo.
Recommended for You
While Team Canada fell short in qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, they were without two of their best players due to injury. In 2024 when the Summer Olympics come back around, the Canadians will certainly be a favorite to win a medal. Being a part that 2024 team is a goal of Primo’s.
“It’s one of the biggest goals I have for my career. I really want to be able to represent my country and go out there and try to win a gold medal. It’s always been something me and my dad have dreamed of. I hopefully will be able to make a big push in 2024.”
Among the Canadians in the NBA that Primo looks up to most is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder. When asked about what players he tries to model his game after, Gilgeous-Alexander was mentioned as someone Primo watches a lot of film on.
Looking at their respective styles of play, they're actually pretty similar. Gilgeous-Alexander is a jumbo guard who has the versatility to play three positions. While he has the ability to score when needed, Gilgeous-Alexander able to affect the game in a variety of ways and impact winning.
This is the case for Primo as well, who was one of the most important players at Alabama last season, although he only attempted just over six shots per game. In the modern NBA, these are the types of players that front offices are targeting, as versatility and the ability to impact winning without scoring is becoming increasingly important.
This was something that Primo experienced first hand this season after kicking off the year on the bench before earning a spot as a permanent starter with the Crimson Tide.
“Going into this season, what I figured out was just really trying to find out what my team needed most. Really just adapting to what my team needs from me. Whether that’s leadership or type of energy I need to bring, I really just focused on that. If it needs to be defensively, it’ll be defensively. If it’s offensively, it’s offensively. Sometimes it’s just lifting up my teammates. I can do all those things and am able to adapt.”
Additionally, the days of playing just one position are over. The best players in the world are able to play at least two positions as the game shifts to a more positionless style. Luckily for Primo, he fits that mold and understands the direction the NBA is going.
“I think this game has become more or less positionless. I’m able to play one through three and defend those positions as well. I think I’ll be able to fit well in this positionless league,” said Primo.
At 6-foot-6, Primo can shoot, facilitate, pass, defend and be an influential leader on the court. He’s also ambidextrous, saying that the only reason he shoots with his right hand is because that’s how his dad taught him, but everything else he does with his left hand.
If there’s anyone in this class who’s able to follow in the footsteps of Gilgeous-Alexander, Primo is certainly near the top of the list. Not only does he try to model pieces of his game after the Thunder star, but Primo also has a personal relationship with Gilgeous-Alexander.
“I talk to Shai every once and a while. Before COVID, he would come back for some runs. His mentor is my mentor. I know him pretty well. Having the relationship with those guys who are already doing it pretty big in this league is really fun.”
Primo did recently work out with the Gilgeous-Alexander's Thunder, who own six total picks in Thursday’s draft at No. 6, No. 16, No. 18, No. 34, No. 36 and No. 55 overall. He talked about how great that workout was and how special it was to do it alongside his Alabama teammate Herb Jones.
“I did a group workout,” said the young guard. “It was a great workout. I had fun. I actually got to work out with Herb Jones, he was one of the people in the workout, so we got a little bit of a reunion there. It was a great experience”
In terms of a successful rookie season, Primo has his mind set on accomplishing his team’s goals. With the versatility he brings, he can fill any role he needs to and help impact winning immediately. With that in mind, he laid out a few goals for his first NBA season.
“I want the team that I’m on to have achieved the goals that they set out," said the projected first-round pick. "Second, being one of the most influential rookies, a guy that affects the game from the start. Being that guy with the energy all year that was able to help his team be successful through what he’s able to do. I think I’m a very intellectual player, someone who can read defenses well, offenses well, and adapt very quickly. Being able to adapt to whatever situation I’m in. I’m able to mold myself into anything I need to be.”
Primo has the right mindset and vision to be end up being one of the biggest steals in his class.
With the 2021 NBA Draft set to take place on Thursday evening, Primo will learn where he will begin the next chapter of his basketball career. Set to be the youngest player in the entire NBA during the 2021-22 season, he’s primed to hit the ground running and make an immediate impact at the next level.