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Duane Washington Jr. is No. 1 in the Ohio State preseason power rankings

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra

The 2020-21 men’s college basketball season is slated for November 25. It will mark 262 days since the Ohio State men’s basketball team last played a game, and until November 5 the plan was to open the season with three games in three days as part of the Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Instead, the same COVID-19 pandemic that forced the cancelation of the 2019-20 postseason has made the Buckeyes change their plans. They will no longer participate in the event and are now looking at all available options, multi-team event or otherwise, to get their season underway. The hope remains to play a 27-game season that will include 20 Big Ten games and lead into a conference and then NCAA Tournament amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but ultimately the Buckeyes might end up scheduling 25 games and playing fewer.

In preparation for an unprecedented start to the season, The Dispatch is counting down with power rankings for each member of the Ohio State roster. They are designed to be an educated guess at which players will have the most significant on-court impact during the course of the entire season.

The series concludes today with the No. 1 player in our rankings. Note: the rankings have been reflected to address the loss of Abel Porter, who was slotted to be No. 7 before he was announced as being unavailable for the season, and were put in motion before Meechie Johnson Jr. announced his plans to graduate early and join the Buckeyes this season.

No. 1 – Duane Washington Jr.

Position: Guard

Class: Junior

Height/weight: 6 feet 3 / 210 pounds

Jersey number: 4

Background: Washington is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he played his first three years of high school basketball there before opting to transfer for his senior season. That meant a move out west, where he played for Chatsworth (California) Sierra Canyon and lived with his uncle, five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher. There, Washington averaged 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game and earned first-team all-state honors.

More:Moving to L.A. for senior season worked out for Duane Washington Jr.

He earned more than a dozen scholarship offers, took official visits to Oregon and UCLA and had an in-home visit from Michigan coach John Beilein, who had offered, shortly before issuing his commitment to the Buckeyes. He was rated a three-star prospect, the No. 14 player from California, the No. 17 combo guard in the country and the overall No. 167 national recruit per the 247Sports.com composite rankings.

Need to know: Washington is an avid fisherman. His favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, and he enjoys the TV show “How To Get Away With Murder.” His favorite movie is “Focus.” While at Sierra Canyon, he earned the nickname “The Mayor,” and he played on a team that also featured Scottie Pippen Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr. As a child, Washington played football and was a quarterback. His favorite NBA player growing up was Stephen Curry, and Kobe Bryant was like an uncle to him.

More:Duane Washington Jr. devastated by loss of Kobe Bryant

2019-20 recap: Washington opened the year as a reserve but was bumped up to starter when Andre Wesson suffered a fractured eye socket in the season opener and would remain there until suffering his own injury. The sophomore would start the next eight straight games and was pivotal in a home blowout win against No. 10 Villanova (14 points), a 25-point win at No. 7 North Carolina (18 points) and a blowout 32-point home win three days later against Penn State (14 points).

But in between that win and a road game against Minnesota eight days later, Washington suffered an injury to some cartilage around one of his ribs that would cost him two games. He would return in a limited role in a win against No. 6 Kentucky in Las Vegas, but it would take some time until he was able to fully shake the effects of the injury. After averaging 11.4 points and shooting 53.7% (22 for 41) from three during the first nine games, he went 7 for 25 (28.0%) from three and averaged 7.8 points during the next six games leading into a one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Washington returned in a big way, scoring 20 points in a 14-point road loss to Penn State, but he began to settle into an expanded role once freshman D.J. Carton left the team two games later.  Asked to handle some of the point guard duties and help initiate offense for others in addition to hunting his own shots, Washington recorded 19 assists in the final 11 games of the season after having 21 during his first 17 games.

The sophomore also saved some of his best for Michigan: he had 17 points in a road win against the Wolverines including a crucial three-pointer during the final minute and then tied a season high with 20 points in a home win that saw him go 5 for 7 from three.

It was clear by the end of the season that Washington’s role would only continue to grow. Washington was among the nation’s best at not committing fouls (1.1 per 40 minutes, which ranked 99th best in the nation), and he led the team and was 166th nationally in percentage of shots taken while he was on the court (28.2%).

2020-21 outlook: It became clear as last season played out that the Ohio State coaching staff was comfortable with giving Washington a more pronounced role in the offense. That will only grow this season on a team without Kaleb Wesson that will start the year with only three available guards. Washington will start, Washington will play a lot and Washington will be expected to help shoulder a heavy offensive load.

“I think we saw with Duane last year towards the final third of the season what he can be,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “Duane is never going to be a pass-first point guard. We don’t want him to be that. He was, certainly of all of our perimeters had the highest usage rate by a significant margin and he’s earned the right to continue to grow in that area.”

The key is going to be not overdoing it. Washington can get shot-happy at times, as evidenced by his shot percentage, and he has joked that Holtmann has a look for him that “stares into his soul” when he’s not making enough smart decisions with the ball. He is the odds-on favorite to be Ohio State’s leading scorer this season, but he will be tasked with becoming more efficient in doing so.

He also needs to continue to work at being a better defender, something Holtmann mentioned and fellow backcourt mate CJ Walker echoed.

“He produced a lot for us last year, scoring the ball and things like that,” Walker said. “Just me being hard on him, I feel like he needs to improve defensively. Everybody has things to improve on, but defensively I feel like that will be a big thing for him this year.”

Washington said he noticed that while studying film back home during quarantine and that he’s ready to be a more mature, well-rounded player and leader this season.

“It’s exciting stuff,” he said. “It feels right. I’ve talked to the coaches a lot and we’re on the same page with everything. All those things are set in stone into my brain now and I’m just super excited for this year and taking a very serious approach.”

Additional reading:

For Duane Washington Jr., growth this season is all 'mental'

Greater efficiency an ongoing process for Duane Washington Jr.

Previous power rankings:

No. 2 – Justice Sueing

No. 3 – CJ Walker

No. 4 – E.J. Liddell

No. 5 – Kyle Young

No. 6 – Seth Towns

No. 7 – Justin Ahrens

No. 8 – Musa Jallow

No. 9 – Ibrahima Diallo

No. 10 – Zed Key Jr.

No. 11 – Gene Brown III

No. 12 – Jimmy Sotos

No. 13 – Harrison Hookfin

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy