When Jalen Slawson returned for his final season at Furman in 2022-23, he didn’t come back for some major NIL deal or for any reason of personal gain. In fact, he returned to Furman to try and do something the Paladins hadn’t done in 43 years: win the Southern Conference Tournament and make the NCAA Tournament.
Not only did Slawson and his teammates manage to do that, but the Paladins claimed the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in 49 years, with a 68-67, upset win over No. 4 seed Virginia in a South regional. Slawson posted 19 points and nine rebounds in the win, including a streak of nine-straight points late in the game.
“This season has been special,” Slawson said following Furman’s 75-52 Round of 32 loss to San Diego State. “My career [at Furman] has been special… I came here to play basketball thinking that’s what college basketball players did… They play basketball. I came here as a boy, but I am leaving out as a man with 30-something family members, from my teammates and our coaches, and their kids, and even the support staff and their families and all these folks have meant everything to me and to be able to do what I have done at a place like Furman… I don’t regret a bit of it to my original commitment to coming back this year.”
If Slawson hears his name called in the NBA Draft on June 22, he’ll have a chance to add yet another accolade to a season for Furman basketball that has already been special. He would become the first Furman player taken in the NBA Draft in 39 years. George Singleton was selected in the third-round by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 draft.
So, what about Slawson that has NBA scouts so interested in the 6-foot-7-inch senior?
“Jalen Slawson cared deeply about the men, women, and families involved with Furman basketball,” Furman assistant coach Tim Johnson said. “As much as he loved to play the game, I think what truly drove him was understanding every personal success he had was/is directly tied to providing for the Furman families he adores. He has changed all of our lives for the better and his sacrifice will not be soon forgotten. His loyalty was his superpower. His 44-inch vertical and basketball IQ certainly helped, but the best part about his game was his deep care for others.”
Slawson poured a career-high 33 points and 13 rebounds in an overtime win over the College of Charleston in December 2021, a performance that was a major reason why the Paladins won. Slawson’s maturity was already showing through last season.
“Our coaches are wizards and some of the smartest people I know,” Slawson said that night. “The amount of space that playing around four guards lets me have is a really nice luxury. I love passing, so if you want to double (team) me, I’m completely fine with that. But you have to realize that you’re leaving a really elite shooter somewhere on the perimeter wide open. My 33 (points) were because of those guys.”
This quotation gives potential NBA suitors a good feeling about Slawson’s basketball IQ, which has developed under his five years playing for Bob Richey. More specifically, during the past three seasons under former Wofford Hall-of-Fame big man and Paladin assistant coach Tim Johnson, nearly every aspect of Slawson’s game has improved, giving him the rare opportunity of being an NBA draft pick.
The interest for Slawson has picked up over the weeks since the Paladin season has ended. Slawson’s agent has been taking plenty of phone calls and answering plenty of text messages from NBA teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder, which brought in the Summerville, S.C., native for a workout last week, was the latest team to do so. The Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics have also shown interest.
In addition to the individual team workouts, he is taking part in the NBA Draft Combine (May 15-21), marking the first player in Furman history to participate.
Working While He Waited
Last offseason Slawson was not short of opportunities to take his talents elsewhere, but decided to stay at Furman. He didn’t enter the transfer portal. He did not retain an agent. He did, however, receive vital draft information from scouts of various organizations in an effort to prepare themselves for the future. That has certainly paid off.
The forward’s progression and development at Furman has been nothing short of remarkable. His marketability and his appeal to NBA teams has everything to what he does on the defensive end of the floor.
His father, Tom, was a standout at The Citadel and is part of that program’s Hall-of-Fame. The elder Slawson posted 1,408 points in his Citadel career.
The younger Slawson’s career at Furman saw a significant boost in his final two seasons. He claimed the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year honor in the 2021-22 campaign, and he followed that up by garnering SoCon Player of the Year accolade this past season. He averaged 15.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG and 1.5 BPG in 2023. He finished his career with 1,509 points, which ranks 19th in program history.
In his junior season of 2020-21, Slawson averaged 8.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and dished out 2.8 APG. That spring it was announced that Furman’s star post player Noah Gurley would be transferring to continue his career at Alabama. Instead of exercising that same option to transfer, Slawson took the new opening as a chance to showcase his skill. That commitment paid off, as Slawson would help become a focal point of the Paladin offense.
Slawson saw his scoring average jump from 8.7 PPG to 14.4 PPG in 2022. After connecting on just a combined 29 3-pointers in the three seasons prior to the 2021-22 campaign, Slawson connected on 41 of them that season. Slawson then connected on another 41 3-pointers this past season with his highest shooting percentage (41%).
His athleticism was next level, and it would be hard to find a player with that type of leaping ability and timing on the defensive end to block shots. One of the trademarks of Slawson’s game was his ability to chase down opposing players in the open floor and prevent a Paladin live ball turnover turning into points on the other end.
The athleticism and length Slawson possessed allowed him to get in passing lanes and affect games from another defensive aspect. In each of his final two campaigns with the Paladins, Slawson recorded over 50 steals. In the 2021-22 season, Slawson tallied with 58 steals to finish second in the SoCon in that particular category at season’s end.
Under the direction of Furman strength and conditioning coach Matt Alred, Slawson was able to change his body over his final two seasons, adding muscle and power, which he lacked in his previous three seasons. That allowed Slawson to play a lot bigger than 6-foot-7-inch frame. He finished his Paladin career ranking ninth in program history with 839 career rebounds. With his ability to handle the ball and his comfortability and composure with the basketball, Slawson has demonstrated a full skillset.
Richey’s motto “the game honors toughness” is truly paying off for Slawson. If he hears his name called on draft night, it will not only be another testament to that slogan.