Thursday, February 24, 2011

In Washington, Hofstra finds stability

Greg Washington arrived at Hofstra in the fall of 2005-06 touted as the player who would replace Adrian Uter, the underrated big man who proved to be the glue of the best Flying Dutchmen team in history.

Washington, as lean as Uter was thick, didn’t quite become the next Uter. But he and Hofstra provided each other something almost as important: Stability.

For Washington, who played at three different high schools in three states in the three seasons prior to enrolling in college, Hofstra provided him proof that his native Long Island was his home. And the Dutchmen got a steady and reliable big man, something that is difficult to find at the mid-major level, who also provided valuable leadership on the court and in the locker room.

“I wasn’t really big on traveling, that was one of the reasons why I went to military school in Florida [as a high school senior in Melbourne in 2004-05] and prep school in Massachusetts [at Winchendon Prep in 2005-06],” said Washington, who played his first three seasons of high school ball at Central Islip. “Home is where the heart is, and I picked this school because it’s close to home. My family could come out, my friends could come out and watch me play. They don’t have to travel, spend loads of money just trying to get a hotel. My friends and family, they have given me so much love and support that I’m speechless at times.”

Washington found a family within the program as well and has been best friends with Charles Jenkins since the two roomed as redshirt freshman in 2006-07. The co-captains had a good laugh this week looking at their freshmen year media guide pictures, when neither one could crack a smile and Washington looked as thin then as he does now.

“He weighed like 87 pounds,” Mo Cassara said with a laugh.

Like Jenkins, Washington became a leader within the campus athletic community, joining the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and becoming a regular presence at other sporting events at Hofstra. “Last year and this year, we started to really come out and enjoy the other sports,” Washington said. “In the spring I’m going to be at a lot of lacrosse games, because I worked facilities three times last year and all three times was for their games. And it was probably one of the most exciting sports I’ve ever seen.

“I’m clapping for these guys, I’ll be on Twitter updating the scores. I’m very in tune with our sports and the student body. They come to our games and show support, so we [should] respect that and do the same thing.”

Getting the same type of credit for his game that Jenkins receives for his has been a little tougher for Washington, whose contributions as a team leader aren’t as easily measured or seen as those of Jenkins, whose grimaces, grins and sweats his way to box score-busting numbers.

Washington also realizes a lot of people see his 6-foot-10 frame and wonder why he isn’t a nightly threat for a double-double and why he is more comfortable shooting midrange jumpers instead of playing with his back to the basket. But Washington is content to know he is no higher than the third option behind Jenkins and Mike Moore and prefers to maximize his strengths on defense, where his height allows him to block shots (he is Hofstra’s all-time leader with 268 and will hold the top three single-season totals in school history with two more blocks this season) as well as change shots from anywhere from below the basket to outside the 3-point line.

“Everybody wants to be that guy, I think that in high school I was that, but the situation coming here, you kind of have to be a role player,” Washington said. “Charles is one of the best players in the country and you have to realize there’s certain things you can do to help your team—block shots, [score] the occasional six or eight points here and the rest will take care of itself.”

Washington, who is averaging 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, has also given the Dutchmen the type of steadiness the program has rarely if ever received from a post player. With his start Saturday against Delaware, Washington will become only the second big man in Hofstra history to start at least 30 games in consecutive seasons (Greg Springfield started 30 in 1999-2000 and 31 in 2000-01). Washington started 30 games last season. And if the Dutchmen play another three games (a near-certainty) and he starts all three (which he will barring injury), Washington will set a school record for most starts by a big man over a two-year span.

The stability Washington provides extends well beyond the court. Cassara has raved all season about Washington’s leadership, continually crediting him for teaming up with Jenkins to keep the Dutchmen focused and upbeat during the numerous hiccups they have endured over the last 12 months.

“Greg is a guy that holds everything together—he’s the ultimate teammate,” Cassara said. “He doesn’t need the ball, he doesn’t need the spotlight, he doesn’t need anything and he just takes coaching. He’s a great example for all the young guys and he does so many things that doesn’t show up in the boxscore. He changes shots, he bails guys out on defense, he runs possessions, he’s always willing to pass the ball.

“Greg Washington is the guy doing all the dirty work and he’s just an incredible teammate.”

Added athletic director Jack Hayes: “Greg Washington ahs been at Hofstra five years and he has a smile on his face every single day. I love it. I love the opportunity, when the opportunity exists, to just come down from the office to the court and talk to those guys for five, 10 minutes. Greg is always in a good mood and I think those are the things Mo talks about all the time that don’t show up necessarily in stat sheets. But our ability to bounce back from Puerto Rico, bounce back from Iona, bounce back from the three-game losing streak [in January] has a lot to do with so many younger guys on the team following the leads of both Charles and Greg.”

Washington said he reminds underclassmen how fast their careers will go by and that struggles early in a career (Washington fouled out in just seven minutes in his debut against Holy Cross Nov. 10, 2007) can be overcome. He speaks from experience: He fouled out in just seven minutes in his debut against Holy Cross Nov. 10, 2007, but if the Dutchmen play another five games, Washington will finish his career behind only Jenkins on the program’s all-time games played list.

Underappreciated? Maybe by those outside Hofstra Arena, but not those within it.

“I just want my team to win,” Washington said. “They can under-appreciate me all they want but my team’s winning and that’s what I’m OK with. We’re tied for second in the conference, which hasn’t happened since my redshirt year, so I’m proud of my teammates and I’m just glad that I’m a part of it…we’re winning games and we’re having fun and we’re enjoying it.”

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