Concern about the Tar Heel basketball program has been running rampant over the better part of the last two weeks since the team concluded one of the most disappointing seasons in program history. Friday, though, should settle the anxiety about the future, at least for the time being, after the announcement of two key pieces returning for next year.
The day started with junior guard RJ Davis confirming that he will be back for his senior season around lunchtime, giving the Tar Heels their second returning starter from this season and a veteran presence in the backcourt. He has since been joined by freshman forward Jalen Washington, who confirmed to multiple sources that he will be returning for 2023-24 after a response on Twitter to Davis’ post announcing his decision.
Washington’s return is a massive one for a Tar Heel team that has a lot of work to do at the 3 and the 4 this offseason. He immediately becomes the favorite to take over the starting 4 role that is left behind by Pete Nance after Puff Johnson and Dontrez Styles entered the transfer portal.
In his first season with the Tar Heels, Washington played in 20 games, averaging 2.2 points per game and 1.4 rebounds per game in 113 minutes of action. He had some impressive moments, highlighted by the first half against Virginia where he scored 12 huge points in place of the injured Armando Bacot. That performance left many calling for more minutes for him, but with the lack of a true offseason program due to the rehab of a knee injury, there were moments where he simply didn’t have the size to hold up inside. Now, with an offseason where he should be at full health, he will have the chance to add to his frame and develop his game on both ends of the floor.
Washington is regarded as one of, if not the best, NBA prospect on the team with the skillset that he brings to the table. As he showed against Virginia, he has the post game to thrive in the 5 role if needed, but as we heard from Hubert Davis in the offseason, he has the ability to stretch the floor. "He's the best shooting big man coming out of high school that I've ever seen,” he said on a podcast last offseason.
When you combine Davis’ return with Washington’s, Friday was one of the most promising days in a while for Tar Heel basketball fans. With Bacot already returning, it appears that three of the five starters for next season may already be in place. As the team awaits the last expected decision of the offseason from Caleb Love, the focus now turns to the transfer portal where the team needs to find some help on the wing.
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