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Charlie Jacob makes the most of his fifth year as basketball’s leading scorer

| Managing Editor

Jacob turns to look down the court, teammate Hayden Doyle behind him. (Photo by Clara Richards | Student Life)

Charlie Jacob stands out on the court, and it’s not just from the three-pointers that he sends from behind the arc or the defense that he’s constantly polishing. He also stands out because he has the best — and only — man bun on the team, his hair usually extra-secured with a headband. He’s probably grinning ear-to-ear, the same smile that helped him land a modeling contract. He’s definitely locked in to the game.

People tell Jacob that he has California surfer energy. Maybe it’s the hair, maybe it’s the Birkenstocks and socks that he sometimes wears when he walks the half mile down the street to practice — he’s not someone who cares about what he’s wearing.

Maybe it’s the vibes. He has a car, but he never uses it. Even in the cold, he prefers the meditative stroll down the Sycamore tree-lined Forsyth Boulevard. He’s listening to podcasts — usually longevity podcasts, but sometimes Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber. The common theme? “A lot of good vibes,” he said.

But Jacob grew up in Minnesota, far from California. Ever since second grade, basketball has been his favorite sport.  He can trace it down to a second-grade assignment where he was asked to pick a favorite — at the time, he played basketball, baseball, and football. But he picked basketball, and it’s stayed his passion ever since. 

“I fell in love with it from an early age and have just continued to fall in love with it,” he said. “I’ve never, ever been sick of it. It’s just kind of a thing in my life that I can turn to as relief or as therapy and it’s just always been a source of joy.”

He committed to WashU in between the tenure of previous head coach Mark Edwards, and current head coach Pat Juckem. At the time, he had no idea who was going to be the coach. During freshman year and the first half of sophomore year, he played an average of 13 minutes per game. 

“My role was to come in and play defense and [not] turn the ball over. Don’t be stupid; that was my role,” he said. 

Halfway through his sophomore year, a series of injured players left a hole in the court. It gave Jacob a starting spot; that season, he scored 106 points and shot 83% from the free throw line. 

At the beginning of the 2021 season, Jacob struggled with accuracy and aggression, only averaging around three points per game. But by March, when the team headed into the postseason, he consistently put up double digits. He started every game and was a staple of Juckem’s rotation of experienced players. “It’s been a cool arc,” he said. 

The end of the 2021 season — with the team dropping a seven-point lead to lose at the buzzer — was devastating for Jacob.

“I’ll never forget what that buzzer sounded like, and all the emotions of us realizing that that was the last time this group [would] be together,” he said. “Like, yeah, the basketball was over. But honestly, I was scared of losing that unit, of giving up that time and knowing once we left, it won’t ever be the same. Man, that was heartbreaking. I didn’t sleep at all that night.”

As graduation loomed, Jacob thought about coming back for a graduate year. Over the spring, though, a few things coalesced: the Corporate Finance and Investments graduate program fit what he was looking for academically, and he was offered a scholarship. He also thought a lot about the future of the team.    

“A big part of it was carrying on Justin’s legacy — that piece of it,” Jacob reflected. “I talked to him before he passed, but he really cared about WashU basketball, really cared a lot about the program, the people, the culture, the direction that it was going. I felt like coming back, I could…be a bridge from our class from that era to a new era.”

“As Charlie is, he was very thoughtful about his process,” Juckem said. “He obviously had a really good job opportunity waiting for him. But, you know, I think he felt that he had more to do.”

As a graduate student, Jacob’s experience can’t be undervalued for WashU’s youthful starting lineup. He’s currently the team’s leading scorer, with 15.1 points per game, and he hit a career-high 24 points against Eureka College in the team’s sixth game of the season.  

“When he gets in his mode, he’s basically unstoppable,” freshman Yogi Oliff said.

“It’s letting myself go a little bit, just allowing myself to play and not think,” Jacob said about his recent success. “I think I’m in a spot and I’ve been able to find a place where I’m just competing. Like, there’s nothing going on in my head. I’m out there playing basketball and enjoying every moment. So yeah, honestly, I think it’s just been letting go.” 

It’s an answer reminiscent of the iconic mockumentary “Surf’s Up”’s happy-go-lucky Chicken Joe — if Chicken Joe was aggressive on the boards and swished six three-pointers last weekend. 

In the locker room, Jacob, known as Chuck to his team, is the person to talk to if the underclassmen need a pick-me-up. When Oliff sinks a trey in practice, Jacob’s voice is the first one he hears congratulating him.

“He makes you feel important,” sophomore teammate Hayden Doyle said. “And I think that’s what makes his interaction so special; he’s not just doing it because he’s your teammate. He’s doing it because he cares about you.”

As a freshman, Doyle was enrolled in Management 100, a legendarily hard business school class. Flying home from a game in Boston on Sunday evening, he realized that he had a web work assignment due at midnight. He and Jacob sat down in the airport and worked on it for the next six hours. They got back to the locker room at 11:30 p.m. in St. Louis. Surrounded by the shiny wood lockers in the AC, Jacob helped Doyle through the end of the set. Doyle turned in the assignment on an adrenaline high at 11:58 p.m. with his teammate beside him the whole time.

“It was the greatest day — I got like a 100,” Doyle said. “Charlie wasn’t going to leave me. The whole team had left the locker room. It was Sunday night. But he was just there with me, making sure that I was done.”

Jacob, front and center, cheers from the bench as he watches teammate Doyle hit a three-pointer. (Photo by Clara Richards | Student Life)

That engagement and positivity are woven through his whole life, including his interview. At the end of the athlete of the week segment, Student Life asks a self-admittedly silly would-you-rather question. “Would you rather have fish for hands or have to adopt a child every time you hear ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?” I’ve asked dozens of people over the past three years. The answers have varied, from a gruff “adopt a child” to “there’s no way I can take care of that many children.” No one has asked me a follow-up question. 

Until now. “So, this is just one fish per hand?” Jacob questioned. “And not like I get five fish for each of my digits?”

I told him that it was up for interpretation.

“So, another clarifying question, because this is really good. So I have to hear ‘Bohemian Rhapsody?’”

I relayed the very official guidelines we’d established: he’d only have to hear the song for a few seconds before being given a child to raise from birth to age 18. He considered that. “So I think I’m probably going with Bohemian Rhapsody, because I think there’s a way that I could just go off the grid and live in some kind of hut in Wyoming and lose touch with civilization and never hear that again. But then, that also isn’t great, you know?”

I told him in the basketball context, his answer made sense. Fish for hands would make hooping next to impossible. But he didn’t see it that way.

“I mean, crazier things have been done. I think it’d be cool to be the first-ever basketball player with fish for hands. Like, think about that. That could be cool stuff, you know?”

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