Sophomores Bryce Washington and Michael Wang both played well while seeing an unprecedented amount of minutes as freshmen over the course of last season. Now in year two, both players are looking to elevate their games to a whole new level.
Washington came to Penn as an athletic guard who specialized in getting to the basket, but with senior guard Ryan Betley suffering a season-ending injury in the Quakers’ first game last year, Washington was thrust into the sharpshooter role.
“[Bryce’s] role developed last year because we lost Ryan, and we said we need someone to catch and shoot more than take it to the basket,” coach Steve Donahue said.
Washington excelled in that role, taking just over four three-point attempts per game and knocking them down at an impressive 40% clip. This season, Washington is excited to get back to playing his game while focusing on becoming a more well-rounded player overall.
“[Driving to the rim] is definitely something I want to expand because that was something that I was really good at in high school that I stopped doing last year,” Washington said.
Wang, a 6-foot-10 forward, experienced similar success in his first season, averaging 8.5 points per game, including a stretch of four games early in the year where he averaged 18.5 points on 27-44 shooting.
After a strong start to the season, however, Wang was hampered by injury down the stretch after hurting his ankle in a loss to Toledo. He ended up missing five games, but the injury clearly affected Wang for the rest of the season.
“I wasn’t really feeling 100%, and I wasn’t really ready,” Wang said.
As Penn made a late-season push into the Ivy League Tournament, Washington and Wang were relegated to the bottom of the Quakers’ rotation in favor of more veteran players. In addition to Wang’s struggle with injury, both he and Washington were too inexperienced for Donahue to trust them in those big games.
“Last year it was more a direct result of them being freshmen and not understanding what it takes to play in this league,” Donahue said.
One big aspect where Donahue would like to see improvement from both players is defense. He does not want to face situations where he wants to have them for offensive possessions in close games, but has to substitute them out on defense. Already in fall workouts, Donahue has seen not only improved all-around play from Washington and Wang, but also an intense drive to show they can be trusted on both ends in big moments.
“They both came back really motivated to prove that they can play at this level and play consistently and be someone that we all can count on for the whole season,” Donahue said.
While Washington and Wang are competing with each other as well as a strong freshman class for these opportunities, they want nothing more than to see each other succeed.
“We love each other," Wang said. "When we’re on the court, I look for him and he looks for me,” Wang said.
As members of the same recruiting class, the two players share a strong feeling of camaraderie.
“It’s just that respect for each other," Washington said. "We both love the game [and] we both want to get better, so we enjoy being around each other."
On a roster stacked with talent and a great deal of hope for the upcoming season, Washington and Wang are out to prove they can build off the impressive runs of success they experienced in just their first seasons at the collegiate level.
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