Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann has a look, and Duane Washington Jr. can usually feel it coming.
It could be after a missed defensive assignment, or perhaps after a shot hoisted just a bit too quickly. It carries a clear meaning and usually is followed by a trip to the bench that can sometimes last for an extended period.
Washington has seen it a few times this season. As he grows into a new role with expanded time as the backup point guard behind CJ Walker, the sophomore is adapting to changing responsibilities while trying to remain in the good graces of a coach who is known for holding high expectations for his point guards.
It’s a work in progress.
“Every once in a while you look over and feel that he’s staring through your whole soul,” Washington said Friday. “I know his intentions behind it is to get you better as a player. To have somebody behind you like that that cares a lot means a lot and gives me confidence.”
Not that Washington has ever seemed to lack much in confidence since his arrival at Ohio State. He primarily played off the ball as a freshman, where he started to work through the process of learning good shots and bad shots in college, but now is handling the ball more during D.J. Carton’s absence.
In that role Tuesday at Michigan, Washington scored 17 points and hit a crucial late three-pointer in a three-point win and also had two assists with one turnover in 31 minutes of playing time. Over the past three games, all without Carton, Washington has eight assists and three turnovers after having only 18 assists through the first 19 games.
His 17 points against the Wolverines came on 7-of-14 shooting. In his prior two games, Washington scored 12 points on 4-of-21 shooting.
“He’s got to … stay aggressive, which he usually does,” Holtmann said. “There’s no question that’s important for Duane, but efficiency matters. Efficiency is a sign of a growing player.”
The new challenge for Washington, while he handles minutes at the point, is balancing hunting for his shot with helping his teammates find theirs. While he’s on the court, Washington attempts 28.6% of Ohio State’s shots, the highest rate on the team.
“Now, with the ball in my hands more, if you have the ball you can shoot it whenever you want,” he said. “It’s just knowing when to pass up opportunities and get others involved and know that it might not be our team’s best shot at that moment.”
It’s a process, and not one without a few glares and perhaps some extra time watching the game alongside an assistant coach. It’s tough love, and both coach and player said they are embracing it.
“He’s a really enjoyable kid to coach,” Holtmann said. “I genuinely mean that. Now he drives me batty, but very few days have I not enjoyed coaching him.
“We’re trying our darndest as a coaching staff to bring that level of consistency out in him. That’s our job, and it’s a full-time job.”