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NBA Draft prospect Cason Wallace explains his 'dog mentality' on defense

Cason Wallace explains his 'dog mentality' on defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

CHICAGO -- If you were to design a point guard prospect for the Wizards in a laboratory (can AI do this yet?), they might look a lot like Cason Wallace.

The Kentucky star is big for the position (6-foot-4), he's a physical defender, he forces turnovers (2.0 steals per game), he breaks down defenses off-the-dribble. He's even a solid 3-point shooter, having knocked down 34.6% on 4.0 attempts per game last season. In that regard, he's ahead of where most recent Wizards first-round picks not named Corey Kispert were at this stage in their development.

There are also some intangibles that stand out with Wallace. He plays with a competitive fire evident in how he celebrates big plays and his relentless approach to the defensive end.

"My dad, he always said defense was the will to want to. It’s something that stuck with me and it changed my game," Wallace said at last week's NBA Draft combine.

Wallace interviewed with the Wizards in Chicago. He also met with the Bulls, Nuggets, Lakers, Rockets and Spurs, among other teams.

One common theme he heard from teams was praise for his toughness on the defensive end.

"[They said] I have a dog mentality that they want to see. I get after it on defense," Wallace said, adding: "It just gotta be in you. You can’t teach it. That’s who I am as a person and it’s always been there since I was a little one."

The question for Wallace at the next level could be his offensive potential, as he averaged a relatively modest 11.7 points and 4.3 assists per game last year at Kentucky while shooting 44.7% from the field. Wallace is hoping to be the next star guard to come from Kentucky and if that happens he wouldn't be the first to fly under the radar in the draft.

Devin Booker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, Tyler Herro, Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley have all developed into very good players, some of them stars, despite none being selected in the top-5. Wallace is expected to go in the second half of the lottery.

He has been studying Gilgeous-Alexander's game, specifically the way he plays with pace and creates his own shot off the dribble. He loves how he is a "team player."

Wallace also follows in the footsteps of Maxey, who like him is from the Dallas area. Maxey has served as a mentor for Wallace since a young age.

Maybe Wallace is the next Wildcat to tear up the league.

"I feel like [head coach John Calipari] does a great job at preparing us for the next level as far as putting in sets and using NBA terminology," he said.

Wallace prides himself on playing the right way. He sees himself as a pass-first point guard willing to do what is necessary for his team to win.

"If one eats, we all eat. I’d rather win than lose and look good myself," he said.

In the long term he hopes to show he can do more as a scorer, just as the other Kentucky guards have since leaving Lexington. Wallace's game will have to adapt to NBA spacing and he believes it could be an ideal transition for him as a player.

He feels he grew significantly last season in his ability to operate pick-and-rolls, especially when it comes to using the screen to get into the paint and either finish or pass the ball out to a shooter in the corner. That skill will be essential for him at the next level.

Wallace contends there are many more layers to his offensive game that have yet to be unlocked. For one, he says he can create his own shot much better than he showed in college, though he did make progress in that area late in his freshman season.

"I definitely have a little bag to me," he said.

The Wizards have a long-term hole at point guard. They want to get better on the defensive end. Maybe Wallace and Washington will prove to be a fit on draft night.