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UNC Basketball Summer Preview: Jalen Washington

Will the freshman center be ready to go in November?

North Carolina v Kansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With Matthew Mayer’s decision to head to Illinois, the Tar Heels still have one scholarship that could potentially be filled. Hubert Davis may very well hone in on another player in the transfer portal, but for now let’s focus on the guys we know will be on the 2022-2023 roster. So without further ado, we’re kicking off our summer basketball player previews with Jalen Washington.

Washington has had a rollercoaster high school career, to put it lightly. Coming up as a freshman and sophomore, he was considered a consensus five-star recruit. Per IC, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in January of 2020. After playing (and playing well) through an entire season that included high school, AAU, and NBPA camp, it was discovered that the initial surgery to repair his ACL wasn’t performed properly. With both a partially torn meniscus and a partially torn ACL, Washington underwent surgery to repair both injuries in late September of 2021.

With an initial recovery timetable of roughly eight months, Washington was shooting for a return to full strength around June. Thus, he’ll presumably be back at 100% some time this summer and ready to go when the season tips off in November. The decision to get surgery was tough for Washington as he knew it meant he would miss his senior season at West Side in Gary, Indiana. However, he appears optimistic about his recovery and the opportunity to showcase his abilities for UNC next season.

As it stands now, Washington is listed as the 43rd overall recruit in the 2022 class, according to 247 sports composite rankings. As a sophomore, he was initially ranked 13th and was, as stated earlier, a consensus five-star recruit. While his dip is understandable given the struggle with injuries, there’s a reason he was and is so highly touted.

At 6-9, 210 pounds, with a 7-4 wingspan, Washington has an NBA body. His athleticism has been hindered by the injuries, so his potential on that front remains to be seen. Since he was a kid, Washington has made a concerted effort to focus on becoming more skilled. He’s a very comfortable ball handler and a tremendous shooter for someone his size. He is dangerous when he can catch the ball and face and is consistent from mid-range. Washington is an adequate finisher but the physicality of college basketball could be a challenge early.

Defensively, Washington isn’t necessarily a rim protector, but his size and strength allow him to match up with virtually any forward/center. His lateral quickness is solid for his stature but likely something that will need improvement before he gets to the NBA. Still, he will provide the Heels with some versatility on the defensive front.

With four of five starters including All-ACC player Armando Bacot returning from a team that just made the national championship game, there are definitely question marks around Washington’s role in his freshman campaign. Although the Iron Five valiantly played their hearts out for 40 minutes every game, the hope is that those guys won’t have to carry so much of the load next season. One of the biggest issues was not having anyone to back up Bacot at center.

I imagine the ideal scenario for Hubert Davis and his staff would be for Mando to record no more than about 30 minutes per game. While not quite as physically imposing, Washington could be that guy to spell Bacot for stretches at the five. As mentioned prior, he has the length to go up against guys who are more filled out. Given the nature of his game, though, Washington could also find minutes at the three and four spots if he’s able to knock down shots right away. He may not be one of the featured stars of this 2022-23 Carolina basketball team, but Washington will undoubtedly be a valuable asset off the bench.