Meet the freshmen: Washington and Van Beck
Two of the Cougars’ freshmen athletes have been making the most of their game time amidst an otherwise struggling season for Houston basketball. Freshman forward JC Washington and freshman guard Wes Van Beck are still working on making all of the necessary transitions from high school to college basketball, but the two are excited to be a part of the developing Kelvin Sampson era from the beginning. The Cougar sat down with the two first-years as the season nears its close.
The Cougar: How have you guys adjusted to college life compared to high school? Is it difficult balancing college while playing a sport?
Wes VanBeck: As far as schoolwork, it’s not as much paperwork, it’s more online stuff. I like that a lot because I can do it when I want to, and it really helps with the type of schedule I have, because I like to put extra time in in the gym. I was in a lot of AP courses in high school and I think that prepared me.
JC Washington: I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult or anything, it has actually been kind of easy. Coming out of high school, we played hard and worked hard. It has been the same thing here, so for me, it’s been an easy adjustment. Adding the weights to it, early mornings and then hurrying to class and doing it all over again the next day, keeping your body right and keeping it in shape… that’s the hard part for me.
TC: How is it being the team’s only freshmen? Were you expecting to come in and get playing time right away?
WV: I was expecting to just soak everything up and get adjusted to the speed of the game, which I am still trying to get used to. I think we’re getting better at adapting to the different style because it is a lot different than high school. (The speed of the guards and speed of the bigs, setting screens and transition defense. The transition and up and down pace is a lot faster).
JW: I wouldn’t say I was expecting to get much playing time, but I just wanted to come in and prove that I could play with anybody in the country. I feel like I earned my spot to play here. Although some people went down, I feel like I showed that he could rely on me to go in and do the same thing that those guys could do.
TC: Do you guys think you’ve really benefited from having Kelvin Sampson as a coach?
WV: Definitely. He has definitely helped me out as far as stressing the importance of defense and transition. This offseason I have to get a lot faster and stronger, I’m obviously a bit light. I have to work on that in the weight room with Coach (Jason) Russell, but I think I have been doing a pretty good job adapting.
JW: I’ve benefited a lot. He’s the kind of guy to push me and stay on me and I accept that. I look up to him. He knows a lot about the game and everything he says, I cherish it because there aren’t many people like him.
TC: Now that you both are spending more time on the court, you’re becoming recognized more and more by Cougar fans, but they still are wondering ‘what do these guys bring to the table?’
WV: (We bring) more of a defensive presence, definitely a shooter from the outside. Next year we’ll have Ronnie Johnson, so he’s probably going to come in and take up most of that role in creating, but I just hope to be a guy who they can depend on for a good, open shot and knock it down. I would say three-point shooting would be one of my strengths and defense and rebounding.
JW: Coach always talks about doing the dirty work. I don’t really look to score. If I have an open shot I’ll look to try to pass it. Sometimes when I have the ball, he will see that I’m open, coach will say I’m open, but that’s just who I am, I always try to do the dirty work- get the rebounds, take the charges, dive on the floor… things that impress coaches and get the fans going. That’s all I’m looking to do.
TC: JC, Coach Sampson has been very complimentary of the energy that you bring to the team. How do you think that energy is a game-changer?
JW: The team could be having a bad game and I just try to come in and get it back going. I’m in the starting lineup now, so I don’t get to come off the bench and change the momentum. So I just look to start off strong and talk to the guys and keep it going.
TC: Wes, I spoke with a former teammate of yours and he told me that you’re the type of player to shoot six three-pointers back to back. Have you been waiting to showcase that talent?
WV: I’m waiting, I am really waiting. UCF is the game where I thought I would have a lot of my balls rattled, but once I hit a few I can really get going. I had a good practice today, so maybe one of these games in conference I can show that or maybe it won’t happen until next year, but you guys will see pretty soon.
TC: Do you feel underestimated as a player?
WV: Definitely. That’s something I learned from (former coach) TJ (Ford) is that you have to prove yourself every day. I just go in thinking that I am the underdog and that I have to prove myself. And that’s just going to make me better.
TC: What aspects of your game do you two think you’ve made the biggest jump in from summer until now?
WV: My strength definitely. When I came in I think I weighed 170 and right now I am about 186, so I have gained a lot of weight and muscle and that really helps on defense. I have also gotten a lot faster. Definitely credit to Coach Russell for really working me hard this summer.
JW: I feel like I can shoot a little better. My jump shot has improved, but, like I said, I don’t look to score like that. I’ve gained weight and my strength has gotten me where I need to be, now I just need to get in shape and just lose the body fat that I want to lose and have a figure on me to where I can actually show my weight and be cocky and show that I can play with anyone like I said I could. I can be that short guy like Charles Barkley or a Chuck Hayes. Those guys I kind of look up to. People who are underdogs who no one ever looked up to them, that’s who I want to be.
TC: Did you both intend to stay in Houston and play in your hometown?
WV: I came in as a walk-on, but I knew I wanted to extend my career and knew that if I got on this team then I could try to work my way into the lineup. I had some Division II offers, but I felt like I could play Division I basketball. So now I just try to be the best walk-on I can be.
JW: This is about to be (a long answer). I had four scholarship offers coming out of high school. People didn’t recruit me because of my size then we played some of the top teams in the country in high school, and I had good games. University of Houston offered me, and I signed the next day. Houston is home. I get the chance to play in front of my family and I get to bring fans in. There aren’t always a lot of people who come to the games, but I feel like I can bring fans in to support the team, and that’s all that matters is the team. Staying home means a lot. Not many people get to play in front of their parents.