Search for fresh start leads Musa Jallow from Ohio State to Charlotte

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State guard Musa Jallow steals the ball from Purdue forward Grady Eifert on Jan. 23.  Although he played a career-high 15.6 minutes per game last season, Jallow attempted a career-low 2.3 field goals per game.

Sometimes, it’s just time for a fresh start.

That’s where Musa Jallow found himself as his fourth season at Ohio State came to an earlier close than expected. A key member of the rotation who has started the past three NCAA Tournament games for the Buckeyes, Jallow will continue his career at the University of Charlotte after entering the NCAA transfer portal.

It was a decision Jallow made that he feels will help him get back to the player he knows he can be, but it wasn’t one made lightly.

“That was probably the hardest part, leaving the team,” Jallow said. “That was definitely the hardest part. Definitely need a fresh start, especially with the injuries and how the season went for me individually I felt like I just needed to go somewhere new and really start working on my game individually.”

In a statement posted to Twitter on March 31, Jallow thanked his coaches, teammates and the university for helping him grow as well as earn his degree in less than four years. He also referenced a feeling of unrealized potential, writing, “Despite my efforts, my basketball career has been far from perfect these past four years, but I continue to hold high expectations for myself.”

Jallow said that was nod to the injuries that have helped hold him back. A pair of surgeries on his right ankle forced him to take a medical redshirt for what would’ve been his junior season, and an injury to his left ankle in a Feb. 18 road win against Penn State lingered through the remainder of the season.

But there was more than Jallow was letting on. While rehabbing his ankle during the 2019-20 season, Jallow was able to focus on his skill work with an eye on returning as a more complete player once fully healthy. Then, the day after he was cleared for full-contact work in late July last summer, he hurt his right (shooting) hand. The diagnosis?

“I tore two of the tendons in two of my fingers on my right hand,” he said. “I had a clean tear. They had to sew them back together, and then I had to do rehab to try to get my strength back and get the swelling down.”

It was a four-month recovery, which would butt right up against the start of the season. Publicly, Jallow kept the injury secret to avoid being classified as “the guy who’s having a bunch of injuries,” but it significantly impacted what he could do with a basketball.

“I thought I was going to be able to play better, but right when that happened it felt like all the skill work I put in when I couldn’t really move just went out the window,” he said. “(Coach Chris) Holtmann gave me ample opportunities to have some freedom. Every time I touched the ball, the ball felt different to me in my hands.”

Ohio State basketball:Musa Jallow jumps at chance to join Buckeyes early

His role became one of an almost exclusively defensive player. Although he played a career-high 15.6 minutes per game, he attempted a career-low 2.3 field goals per game. Jallow missed 17 of 18 three-point attempts and shot a career-low 56.5% from the free-throw line.

“I had a good amount of athleticism left and my instincts and my experience,” Jallow said. “I tried to give it all for the team and suck it up, because I definitely didn’t feel good enough to compete skill-wise at a D-I level based on not being able to actually work on my game.”

So when the season ended, Jallow said it took a few days before he started to think about what would come next. Once he entered his name in the portal, a half-dozen teams contacted him within the first day. More would follow, and ultimately the process would take roughly two weeks until Jallow made a decision.

Atop his list of criteria for picking a school: finding a coach that believed the 21-year-old from Bloomington, Indiana, could do more than he showed this season. A suitor emerged in Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez, who as an assistant coach had recruited Jallow to the University of Virginia out of high school.

“I was definitely just looking for a coach that could see the positives in me from this year and also see what I can be and looking for an experienced guy to come in and have a big role on the team,” Jallow said. “When I entered the portal he called me immediately and was like, ‘I know the kind of player you can be. This place can really help you get to where you want to get to.’ ”

For now, Jallow continues to rehab his ankles and hand with an eye on getting to Charlotte this summer and establishing himself as a legitimate player. The 49ers went 16-13 in 2019-20, Sanchez’s second year with the program, but were 9-16 and lost nine straight games to close the COVID-shortened season.

Understandably, Jallow is excited about the opportunity that lies ahead with a fresh start. It just comes with mixed emotions.

“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a great team coming back for Ohio State, so I’m excited to watch them,” he said. “Those are my guys through and through and I’m going to be cheering them on for sure. For me personally, I’m going to get to work this summer and show everybody that I can hoop.”

That would be a happy ending for all sides.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy