Celebrating Utah Senior Jason WashburnPosted by AMurawa on March 9th, 2013
When Utah hosts Oregon today at the Huntsman Center, it will not only be a game that has a major impact on our eventual Pac-12 regular season champion, it will also be the day where five Ute seniors will be honored in their final home game. Among that group will be one guy – David Foster – who hasn’t played a minute in either of the school’s two seasons in the Pac-12 (and yet who still will go down as the all-time leader in blocks at the school), another – Ryan Osterloh – who has earned a total of six minutes this season (and in his career), a third – Jarred DuBois – who only played one season in Salt Lake City, after parts of four at Loyola Marymount, and a fourth – Cedric Martin – who spent just two years wearing the Block U and is averaging just 7.4 points per game this year. All of these guys have their own stories and all make for an interesting take (until just moments ago, Foster was going to be the main target of this post), but today we’re going to look at the career of senior center Jason Washburn.
After a redshirt season to start his career with the Utes under then-head coach Jim Boylen, Washburn got his playing time started in 2009-10, at the same time as Foster returned from his LDS mission for his sophomore season, giving those Utes their version of a twin tower frontcourt. That year’s Utah team also featured Marshall Henderson as a freshman in near-constant danger of slipping into meltdown mode and junior Carlon Brown in the midst of yet again failing to live up to the potential he had flashed as a freshman two years earlier. Washburn was clearly playing second fiddle in the middle to Foster in his first year, earning just a third of the minutes available to him, but flashed plenty of potential in posting a career-high offensive rating (according to Ken Pomeroy), shooting free throws at an unsustainable 86% rate, and blocking better than 6% of his opponents two-point field goals, that last one a number that stayed pretty steady.
His sophomore campaign was pretty much the same, albeit with a bump in minutes up to about 20 minutes a night, and another sub-.500 record along with some ruffled feathers, ensuring that the Boylen era in Salt Lake would end. And when the Utes fell to that great 2011 San Diego State team in the Mountain West quarterfinals, little did anyone know that Washburn and Foster had played their last game together. And really, Washburn and just about anybody on that team had played their last game together, as a mass exodus of players from the program ensued. But for the big man, the impression through two seasons was: “Nice kid, uses his size well, but never going to be much of an offensive threat and doesn’t even rebound.”
However, in 2011-12, with the talent level on the Ute team depleted, new head coach Larry Krystkowiak asked for and received much more from Washburn. His minutes jumped (29.0 MPG), his offensive usage soared (he used better than 20% of his team’s possessions) and the big fella finally became a good weapon on the boards, grabbing nearly 20% of all of his opponent’s misses and even doing some work on the offensive glass. Still, all of that was lost amidst a 6-25 record.
In his senior campaign, the Utes have still not been good, dragging themselves along to a 12-win season and a 4-13 conference record to this point. Washburn’s minutes have dipped a bit, but his per-game averages are roughly the same (11.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG) as he’s again taken on a bigger role in the offense, even with a better collection of talent around him. On more than one occasion this season, Washburn has not only been the best player on his team, he’s been the best player on the floor. In particular, he has thrashed the Arizona schools this year. In the first go-round at ASU and Arizona, Washburn earned our POTW award, averaging 18 points and 14.5 boards against players like Jordan Bachynski and the trio of Wildcat bigs. When those schools visited Utah in mid-February, those numbers were 20.5 points per night and “just” eight rebounds a game. All told, since going five of the first six games of the year with fewer than 10 points per night, Washburn has scored in double figures in 19 of the Utes’ last 23 games. With youngsters like Jordan Loveridge experiencing typically youngster-like inconsistencies, Washburn has been a rock for Coach K and the Utes.
In the end, the four straight losing seasons that encompass Washburn’s career are certainly nothing to celebrate. But none of that is his fault. He’s improved slowly but surely over the course of his career and become a strong Pac-12 player in his time. He’ll go down as one of just 35 1,000-point scorers in Utah’s long and proud basketball history and fans will have plenty of positive memories from his final season with the Utes.