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Friday, February 3, 2023

Men's Basketball

‘The perfect teammate’: J’Wan Roberts’ mentorship of Jarace Walker


J'Wan Roberts and Jarace Walker go against each other during a offseason workout . | Courtesy of UH athletics

J’Wan Roberts and Jarace Walker go against each other during a offseason workout . | Courtesy of UH athletics

Regardless of how talented a player is, the transition from high school to college presents many challenges. This is especially true for anyone who comes out of high school to play for head coach Kelvin Sampson, who has high expectations for each individual within the UH program.

While Jarace Walker, the five-star freshman out of IMG Academy, has drawn lots of attention from the outside looking in at the 2022-23 UH men’s basketball team, the learning curve to get both physically and mentally prepared to play college basketball has still been steep.

This is where J’Wan Roberts has stepped in, taking the highly-touted freshman under his wings to make Walker’s transition from IMG Academy to UH as smooth as possible.

“I feel like as a mentor, as a vet (it’s important) to show (Walker) the ropes of college,” Roberts said. “A lot of freshmen come in and think it’s still high school.”

With lots of pressure on Walker, who many NBA draft experts expect to be a lottery pick in the 2023 draft, Roberts is the perfect person to serve as the 6-foot-8-inch forward’s mentor the because of his selfless personality, according to Sampson.

“J’Wan is very much a giver,” Sampson said. “He’s the perfect teammate because he cares so much for other people. He values your success.”

From helping Walker navigate around the UH campus to getting him settled into his room, Roberts has put an emphasis on the little things outside of basketball to make Walker feel comfortable as he adjusts to the college lifestyle.

“It’s bigger than basketball too,” Roberts said. “On and off the court, classes, even when we’re outside of basketball (I’m) just always (trying to) show him that he has somebody he can lean on.”

The two are also roommates, which strengthens their bond even further.

“It’s dope rooming with the person I work out with, go one-on-one with every day,” Walker said.

On the court, Roberts is always setting an example of what the UH men’s basketball program’s culture looks like on the court, taking it upon himself to teach Walker how things are done at UH.

“He took Jarace under his wing,” said UH senior forward Reggie Chaney. “Just teaching him how to play appropriately to the culture and stuff.”

Though the two have only spent time together since June, Walker already considers Roberts his big brother.

“There’s definitely a vibe between us,” Walker said. “We’re close. We’re cool. We fit together well. It’s definitely helped me on and off the court.”

Sampson has taken note of how much Roberts has grown as a leader since he arrived at UH as a freshman in 2019, recognizing the importance of the 6-foot-7-inch redshirt junior forward’s leadership not just to Walker but to the Cougars as a whole.

Roberts is part of the glue that holds the team together.

“His leadership is critical to this team,” Sampson said.

Chaney, the other veteran of the UH big man group, sees the same thing as Sampson each day in practice.

“Every day, that’s how he leads,” Chaney said. “With his rebounding and talking to younger guys and teaching them what it’s going to be like in the game.”

While Walker will get all the glory from the outside if he pans out as one of college basketball’s top freshmen as many people expect him to, Roberts’ mentorship and overall leadership should not be overlooked.

“He’s a coach’s dream as far as the kind of person he is, the teammate he is,” Sampson said. “Jarace is lucky to have J’Wan here because J’Wan will value and make a big deal out of Jarace’s good days, good plays and improvement.”

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