Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ college basketball career was, oh, maybe five seconds old on Saturday when the Huskies’ freshman set a pick on Stanford’s Jarrett Mann.
Seferian-Jenkins is 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds. Mann is 6-4 and 195. Seferian-Jenkins doesn’t yet grasp his team’s offensive sets, but he played enough basketball at Gig Harbor High to know that you don’t need the ball to make good use of a 65-pound weight advantage.
“I wanted,” he said, “to hit somebody really hard.”
The Huskies’ 76-63 victory found them talking afterward about finding their identity. It can’t be a coincidence that on the afternoon they appeared to find their identity, Seferian-Jenkins found the floor.
The Washington tight end, who two weeks ago decided to turn basketball from an offseason hobby into a serious pursuit, played 16 minutes Saturday. And while Seferian-Jenkins’ unfamiliarity with Huskies’ offense prevented him from scoring – he took only one shot – he was as subtle in the lane as an 18-wheel semi, grabbing seven rebounds before picking up five fouls.
Was he more nervous for his college basketball debut, a reporter wondered, or the first time he played in front of a crowd at Husky Stadium?
“My first time at Husky Stadium I wasn’t nervous,” Seferian-Jenkins said, “and I wasn’t nervous today. It’s all good. We won.”
Seferian-Jenkins appeared so comfortable on the court, it’s reasonable to wonder what kind of impact he’ll have when he actually, like, knows what he’s doing.
“He’s new to our team,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar, “but he’s played basketball a long time. He understands the game.
“He can be an energy guy who’s strong and physical. And as he learns more and more, you’ll see him go to the foul line.”
Romar has been searching for a strong-arm presence under the boards since the graduation of Jon Brockman in 2009. Senior Darnell Gant, freshman Desmond Simmons and junior Aziz N’Diaye are not averse to the grunt work required of interior players, but Seferian-Jenkins looks like he was born to rebound.
“I see him as a poor man’s Jon Brockman, and I don’t mean that as an insult to Austin,” Romar said. “I remember nights Jon was doubled down and there was nothing there for him, and he’d still end up with 18 rebounds.
“Austin had seven in 16 minutes. That’s excellent.”
Seferian-Jenkins’ 16 minutes were useful, too, as a substitute for N’Diaye, who picked up his third foul with 18:56 to play in the second half.
Without Seferian-Jenkins, Romar’s response to N’Diaye’s foul situation is to either go to a small lineup – and risk a physical mismatch against the Cardinal – or call on Martin Breunig (6-8) and Shawn Kemp Jr. (6-9). Both are freshmen who lack their fellow freshman’s attack-the-glass mentality.
“Nobody’s going to get a rebound over Austin,” said point guard Abdul Gaddy. “He gives us an identity that I think is gonna help our team a lot, especially on the road.”
Seferian-Jenkins’ eventual riches, of course, will come from pro football. An honorable-mention All-Pacific-12 Conference selection, he caught 41 passes this past season – fourth-most by a tight end at a school synonymous with stellar play at that position.
But basketball will be more than a diversion to help him pass the time before spring football. He doesn’t understand what – or more precisely, where – his place is on the floor, and yet he gets it.
“I had fun out there,” he said. “Had a good time, it was cool.”
The Alaska Airlines crowd of 9,794 buzzed when Seferian-Jenkins made his way to the scorer’s table midway through the first half. The crowd went home buzzing some more about an improbable weapon the Huskies acquired midway through the season.