Should we overreact to his first basket against Georgia Tech? No. Is he extremely important to the team’s success regardless? Yes.
There’s no way to dilute the situation: the Tar Heels have a huge depth problem. Sure, we’ve seen quality minutes from Puff Johnson and Seth Trimble, but they’ve been quality minutes in virtually every way except scoring. They are capable shooters, to be clear, but the numbers don’t lie: the Heels are 348th in the country in bench points, and that isn’t a recipe for success if they want to make noise in the NCAA Tournament.
That is where Jalen Washington comes in. The 6’10 power forward hadn’t played a game of meaningful basketball since March 2021. We finally saw him take the court in the final minutes of the game against Georgia Tech, and he managed to knock down the first shot of his college career. It can’t be understated just how small of a sample size that we’ve gotten from him, but here’s something important to remember: everyone around the program speaks extremely highly of him, and at one point he was a five-star prospect before suffering his injury. There’s nothing to make of the short time we saw him play against Georgia Tech, but there is something behind the hype. The problem, however, is that we don’t know what his conditioning is like, and we also don’t know how much (if any) rust exists.
Still, this is a guy that you have to give minutes as soon as reasonably possible. As of right now, Armando Bacot doesn’t have an effective replacement coming off of the bench, and that has led to us seeing Pete Nance play with 3-4 guards at any given time. Nance has been fine during that time, but Washington’s size and build would be a lot more impactful on defense, and it almost certainly would be a factor on offense. I have no reason to believe that Hubert Davis will immediately give Washington 20 minutes of playing time right away, but if he starts giving him minutes now, we could see his playing time reach an optimal amount by the time March rolls around.
On this week’s episode of the What in Tar Nation podcast, Tanya Anderson, Julius Emanuel and I discuss Washington’s big return, as well as what went right in UNC’s win against Georgia Tech. Let’s hope that things will start trending upwards now that Davis has his prized freshman seeing action, and maybe we’ll start to see bench points rise to something a bit more respectable.