This was a tough one to pick given the Tar Heels had a talented trio of freshman: Seth Trimble, Tyler Nickel, and Jalen Washington. All three of these guys made big time plays at various points throughout the season, but what makes it even tougher is that they never really received significant playing time. Trimble led the way with 9.7 minutes per game and was named our Sixth Man of the Year, which goes to show how sparsely the bench was used. Although Trimble was a terrific defensive force, Freshman of the Year goes to the big man, Jalen Washington.
Due to injuries as well as having to play behind Armando Bacot and Pete Nance, Washington wasn’t able to forge the same kind of impact Trimble did. However, when he got on the floor, he made the most of his minutes.
Despite recording the lowest minutes per game of the aforementioned freshmen with 5.6, Washington led the trio with 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds. He presented an imposing presence for opposing defenses and was often effective with the ball in his hands. Washington’s 45.7% shooting from the field is impressive considering not only his limited opportunities, but also the fact that many of his shot attempts were away from the rim.
From the first time he ever checked in a game, Washington looked comfortable receiving post entry feeds, oftentimes facing up and splashing a jumper in the face of his defender. It was clear right off the bat he has a moldable post game that’s gleaming with potential. Although some people pointed this out early on, it wasn’t until both Nance and Bacot went down with injuries in January that Washington got his chance to shine.
With the Tar Heels making the trip to Charlottesville to take on Virginia, Washington was thrust into the spotlight after Bacot hurt his ankle in the first minute of the game. With Nance already out, Carolina was forced to play without its top two bigs. As a result, they relied heavily on Washington, and he delivered.
Washington put up 13 points and six rebounds, and shot 5-11 from the field. In the first half, after Bacot went down, he helped the team immediately regain its focus by going to work in the post. After knocking down a few shots in a row, Virginia finally started to key in on him. Although he cooled off a bit and Carolina ultimately lost, Washington allowed the Heels to be competitive in a game that seemed doomed from the start.
In another road game against Louisville, Washington posted a solid 19 minutes while Nance was still sidelined. He was fairly quiet offensively but still notched a respectable six points and three rebounds while going 4-4 from the free throw line.
Outside of those two games, Washington never played more than eight minutes. While his position on the depth chart made sense, it definitely would have been nice to see him get more opportunities to not only help the team win, but also develop his game and get adequately adjusted to the college game. With that said, Washington’s potential is evident and with multiple players on the way out, those opportunities should be there for him next season.