By Adam Lucas
For many college basketball freshmen, it’s a steep adjustment to the amount of extra attention to detail required to be a Division I basketball player. Being productive in the weight room, fixing on nutrition and water intake, keeping an eye on sleep…all minutiae that isn’t necessarily critical in high school.
That hasn’t been the case for Jalen Washington, who has involuntarily lived a regimented life away from the court for most of his recent basketball career. Washington, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Gary, Indiana, missed his sophomore season and his senior season of high school due to injury. That means he became intimately familiar with all the nuances required to get back to peak physical condition, a goal to which “we’re close,” he said this week.
After committing to Carolina, Washington was able to get advice from athletic trainer Doug Halverson and strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian while he went through rehab. He arrived on campus this summer with a healthy respect for the unsung duo.
“They’re two of the most valuable people in this program,” Washington said. “You can’t play basketball without taking care of your body. Jonas has helped me build my body and Doug has helped with repair and helping me be more aware of what might be wrong and what I need to take care of. We wouldn’t t be able to play and be in the best form possible without those guys.”
Seeing Washington in the best form possible is something Carolina fans have been anticipating almost since the day he committed. With his size and athleticism, he could provide some welcome depth for Armando Bacot and Pete Nance. But he’s more than just a big body.
Hubert Davis has raved about Washington’s shooting touch, most recently on the Carolina Insider podcast earlier this month. It’s a skill the freshman has honed for several years.
“My high school coaches helped me with that,” he said. “When I was younger, my high school coach wanted to make sure I was working every day. If I didn’t have any other skills, he wanted me to be able to shoot, because you can always play if you can shoot.”
If his outside game was tuned in high school, his willingness to bang inside came from the driveway in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. That’s where Jalen and his older brother, Jimmie, used to engage in fierce one-on-one games. As Jalen still remembers, “That driveway was gravel,” and not very forgiving when one of the brothers hit the ground, which was a frequent occurrence.
“We have walked this whole journey together,” Jalen says of Jimmie, who plays at IU-Northwest. “He has been with me since the start. We would always compete in the backyard going at it, and a lot of times it would end up turning into a shoving match. He was always there for me and always pushed me to be better. “
The question remains, though: what exactly will Carolina be getting when they have a healthy Washington?
“I’m a big stretch,” he says. “I can space the floor with my shooting ability. I’m long, and I’m able to put it on the ground a little bit. I can attack the close out. I’m an unselfish player who likes to involve my teammates . On the defensive end, I like to use my length to disrupt the passing lanes and alter and challenge shots. I hustle, and I like to compete. I try to be vocal and I love to win.”
About that last statement—in what is likely to be one of Davis’ favorite parts of his newest protege, Washington had a very simple response when asked about team goals for this year. Simple, that is, but extremely clear.
“I want,” he said, “to win everything.”