When Guyer High basketball coach Grant Long first saw Jalen Wilson, he knew he wasn’t going to be like most players.
“There's not many freshmen that can come in and make such an immediate impact,” Long told The News this week. “From the get-go as a freshman, he was already probably 6-4, could already shoot the ball and was already at a different level.”
And after wrapping up his junior season, Wilson, a four-star forward from Denton, Texas, already knows where he’ll be playing at the next level. He became Michigan’s first commit for its 2019 recruiting class on Wednesday when he picked the Wolverines in an “Uncle Drew” video on Twitter.
Wilson is rated the No. 34 prospect in the nation in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is Michigan’s highest-rated recruit since Kameron Chatman, a member of the 2014 class who ranked No. 27 nationally. He also ranks fifth overall among Beilein’s top-ranked recruits at Michigan, behind Glenn Robinson III (No. 17, 2012), Mitch McGary (No. 28, 2012), Zak Irvin (No. 28, 2013) and Chatman.
What sets Wilson apart — and has since his freshman year, according to Guyer — is his ability to finish at the rim and be a “zone killer,” meaning he punishes any team that runs a zone defense because he’s automatic from the short corner, elbow area and any other soft spot he can find.
Over the past three years, Long said Wilson has expanded his skill set, demanded to guard the best and hasn’t shied from any moment, like when he hit two clutch 3-pointers to help Guyer rally late and beat South Grand Prairie, 79-77, in come-from-behind fashion this past season in a Class 6A Region I state quarterfinal.
According to MaxPreps, Wilson averaged 16.2 points 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists this past season for Guyer, which finished 38-2 and was ranked No. 4 in the nation.
"He's added every level of his game — finishing around the basket, the mid-range, shots off the dribble, the 3,” Long said. “Just every level of his game he's added to and really improved. Another thing and the greatest thing about Jalen, for a coach, is he's very versatile and can play every position. I've played him at point guard, we've posted him up. His natural position probably is the three on the wing, but at 6-8 he can do it all.”
Long said he thinks Wilson is going to be a “perfect fit” at Michigan and the main thing that separated the Wolverines from the rest of Wilson’s finalists — Baylor, Marquette, Kansas, Oklahoma State and UCLA — is their ability to develop talent.
Under Beilein, Michigan has had seven players selected in the NBA Draft since 2013, including six underclassmen. That number will likely increase by one later this month with big man Moritz Wagner, who is projected as a late first-round and early second-round pick.
“You can definitely see the recent success of Michigan guys going to the NBA and I think that's every high school kid at Jalen's level, that's their dream one day,” Long said. “So being able to see the product that they put out and the players that they've developed has been very attractive to him.”
With one more year to go before heading to Ann Arbor, Long said the next step will be to continue growing Wilson’s basketball IQ, honing his skills and coaching him to make the right play.
“With his mindset — I don't know what he’s ranked in the nation right now — I know he wants to be a top-25 player,” Long said. “I think (Michigan) is getting a kid that's going to work his butt off and will never be satisfied. He's always going to want to get better. When we’re done with practice, he's going to stay and shoot and get extra shots and continue to work on his game.
“He has high goals and high aspirations. I know as soon as he gets done here at high school wanting to win a state championship, he's going to move on to Michigan and want to win a national championship.”