The University of Washington hasn’t had much trouble producing young stars lately, but it has had trouble keeping them. Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray were in the bottom half of most top-100 recruiting lists before averaging double digits as freshmen and winding up in the 1st round of the NBA draft. Markelle Fultz put up one of the great statistical seasons in Washington history as a true freshman before ending up as the #1 overall pick a few months later.
In early March it looked like you could expect more of the same with the Class of 2017. The quintet of Michael Porter Jr., Jontay Porter, Daejon Davis, Blake Harris, and Jaylen Nowell were all committed to Washington as consensus top-100 recruits and Michael Porter Jr. was on every short list for the next #1 overall pick of the draft. Only one of those players remained committed to Washington and now he has already become the go-to guy on the team: Jaylen Nowell.
Nowell was largely overshadowed by his high school teammate, Daejon Davis, who spurned UW for Stanford after Coach Romar was fired. The difference in their recruiting rankings came partly due to a difference in versatility, as Davis was viewed as a combo guard while Nowell was a true shooting guard.
That may be true, but Nowell is one heckuva shooting guard. In his first career college game on Friday night against Belmont he had a performance that will be tough to top even if he were to stay for a full 4 years. 32 points and 5 rebounds on just 18 shots.
What was more impressive than just the numbers was the way it happened. Nowell scored 15 points in the final 5:20 of regulation in every way possible. He hit a 3-pointer, drove to the hoop for an and-1, nailed several mid range jumpers, and helped ice the game by nailing a pair of free throws with 8 seconds left. During that span he was 6/6 from the floor and 2⁄3 from the line with his only blemish a missed free throw on the and-1.
Nowell has a complete offensive game but particularly exciting is his ability to score every way possible when guarded 1-on-1. In 7 isolation possessions so far he has 1.71 points per possession which, while potentially unsustainable, demonstrates his immense skill. Coach Hopkins has made it clear that when this team needs a bucket their best option is to give the ball to Jaylen and get out of the way. If they need to seal a victory their plan is to inbound it to Jaylen and let him nail free throws.
The Huskies have had bad luck recently with draft defections. Players outside of the top-30 in recruiting rankings almost never leave as 1st round draft picks after their freshman year but it happened to Washington twice in the same year with Murray and Chriss. If Nowell continues to play at the level he’s demonstrated he can in his first 2 games through the rest of the season then the Huskies may have another defector on their hands. And if they don’t, look out next year because this kid is a star.