While leading Las Vegas prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman to its seventh straight boys basketball Class 4A state title as a senior in 2018, Jamal Bey would occasionally slide from his spot on the wing into the point-guard role without hesitation.
“Just a few plays to pass and get a lob,” he said smiling. “But not like this where I have to actually tell people where to go and know all the plays.”
Despite a lack of experience at directing an offense, the 6-foot-6 sophomore backup is being tasked to replace Huskies point guard Quade Green, who has been ruled academically ineligible and is out until at least March 20.
Admittedly, Bey isn’t a natural playmaker, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle right now just trying to be in that role and trying to figure out what to say and what not to say,” said Bey, who made his first start at point guard last Saturday. “How to talk to different people. But I think I’m getting better each game.”
During UW’s 61-58 overtime loss at California, Bey finished with 12 points – two shy of his career high – on 4-for-11 shooting, five rebounds, two assists and a steal to offset two turnovers in 33 minutes and 26 seconds.
At a critical juncture in the season during which Washington (11-6, 1-3) has lost four of the last five games, coach Mike Hopkins is forced to put the offense in the hands of someone who is learning on the fly how to play point guard.
“It’s kind of like we have a whole new team without Quade,” Bey said. “We got to get used to it. We got to be better. Different people have different roles, and we just got to step up if we want to win.”
Bey, who averaged 22.1 points at Bishop Gorman, had never given much thought into being a playmaker or finding shots for others.
After playing sparingly last season, Bey focused on improving an erratic jumper – he shoots 29.8 percent on three-pointers – and honing his skills on defense where he’s second on the team with 25 steals.
Early in December, Bey averaged 12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in two starts in place of forward Hameir Wright.
At the time, it seemed as if Bey would emerge as one of UW’s offensive weapons. Subsequently, he moved back to the bench, his production dramatically decreased which explains why he averages 5.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 0.8 assists and 23.2 minutes.
“All he needs is an opportunity,” former UW Husky star Matisse Thybulle said weeks ago. “Jamal was behind me last season, but we always knew he could be a star if given the minutes. The crazy thing about him is, he can play practically anywhere and he never had a chance to find a role and claim it as his own.”
The Huskies need Bey to run an imperfect offense that shoots 24.4 percent on three-pointers in Pac-12 games and is potentially dominant inside with freshman star forward Isaiah Stewart, who averages 18.2 points on 58.2 percent shooting.
“I just learned that you got to get people going early,” said Bey who averages 0.5 assists during his two-year career. “Give them the ball and let them work. Figure out what their different spots are try to get it to them.”
And the hardest part about being a point guard?
“Just knowing (the plays),” Bey said sheepishly while flashing a grin. “When coach calls a play on the fly, I’m like I don’t know if I know this one. … That’s the hardest part.”
Hopkins has no choice but to rely on Bey and a committee of inexperienced point guards that includes sophomore Elijah Hardy, who received his first start last week at Stanford, and freshman Marcus Tsohonis, who was going to redshirt this season but was pressed into duty.
“I’ve moved forward,” Hopkins said when asked about Green and the impact of his absence. “This is what we got. This is who we are, and this is how we have to win.
“Sometimes things like this happen. They’re great learning experiences. We just got to rally. We got good players in the program. We should be able to win. Sometimes it’s position by committee. It’s a big loss, but everybody has got to pick up and do a little bit more.”
After last week’s dismal trip to the Bay Area where the Huskies averaged just 56.5 points, the defending Pac-12 regular-season champions desperately need a win to get back into the conference-title chase and revive fading NCAA tournament aspirations.
Washington faces Oregon State (12-2, 2-2) at 8 p.m. Thursday at Alaska Airlines Arena to begin a critical six-game stretch against five of the top eight teams in the league.
The ceiling remains high for the Huskies, but none of it will matter if they can’t get off the floor.
“We just reset,” redshirt sophomore forward Nate Roberts said. “It’s always nice to hit the reset button. We put those games behind us. We know what we did right and what we did wrong.
“Going back to the drawing board with this week of practice and seeing how we can game plan against Oregon State. Just trying to win the next day. We’re not really focused on too far ahead. It’s a long season. We still got a lot of games to go. Just really trying to focus in on the next day and how we can get better as a team.”
Hopkins doesn’t believe Green’s absence or the point guard by committee are the reasons for UW’s recent downturn.
“We have to limit our turnovers,” Hopkins said, lamenting UW’s 15.1 turnovers average. “We’re one of the worst turnover teams in the country. We got to be able to hit open shots. We’re one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. And one of the things we always held our hat on is defending the three-point line and we’re eighth in the league right now. The last two years we were No. 1.
“We got to do a better job in those three areas and if we can, we’ll be successful. That’s the bottom line.”