When Ohio State’s second session of the summer term gets underway on June 19, four freshmen on the men’s basketball team will arrive on campus to begin their collegiate careers. The four, who all committed during a six-day period in mid-September last year, represent the first full recruiting class in coach Chris Holtmann’s time with the Buckeyes.

Before Justin Ahrens, Jaedon LeDee, Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. arrive on campus, The Dispatch caught up with each of them to review their senior seasons, their reasons behind picking Ohio State and their hopes to contribute as freshmen.

A four-day series continues today with Washington, who transferred from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Chatsworth, California, for his senior season.


Duane Washington

Combo guard

Chatsworth (California) Sierra Canyon

247Sports rankings: No. 14 in California, No. 15 at his position, No. 159 nationally, three stars

15.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game, 1.5 steals per game

First-team all-state

First-team all-California Interscholastic Federation southern section

Los Angeles Daily News first team and newcomer of the year

The move

After spending his first three seasons playing for Grand Rapids Christian, Washington made a summer decision to transfer to Sierra Canyon in large part to be close to his uncle. That would be Derek Fisher, an 18-year NBA veteran and five-time NBA champion.

“There was an opportunity here that I didn’t want to pass up, look back on it in a few years and regret it,” Washington told The Dispatch. “I just wanted to keep my competition level at the highest possible level and California has a great competition level of high school basketball, one of the best in the country.”

It’s common for high school players to transfer to play at prep schools, but it’s uncommon for Sierra Canyon. Coach Andre Chevalier said Washington is the only player to transfer into the program and play one season during his two years with the school.

Washington was joining a team dotted with famous names, including two — Scottie Pippen Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr. — that are instantly recognizable. Washington’s addition didn’t immediately raise the needle much.

“I wasn’t familiar with him at all,” Chevalier said. “We knew that Derek Fisher is his uncle and his kids go here and that’s how we found out about it, that it was a possibility that he would be moving to California. With his reputation we knew he would be a varsity player. As far as what his status would be, if he would be a starter or how he’d contribute, nobody would know until we started getting into practice and he started competing with the guys and we were able to see what he was capable of.”

The acclimation

It didn’t take Washington long to make an impression on his teammates — or anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity.

“The first time he came to California, he walked into the gym and there were people in the gym who were irrelevant to our program,” Chevalier said. “I mean, little kids, their parents, and he went and introduced himself to every person in the gym — and I mean every person. When I saw that, I knew we had somebody special on our hands, not just as a basketball player but as a person for sure.

“He’s like a politician shaking hands and making people feel good about themselves and making people fall in love with him. Getting to know him was quite easy because he extends himself that way.”

Before long, Washington had a nickname. They called him “the mayor.”

“I’ve always been a leader, so as soon as I stepped onto campus my presence has been of that sort,” he said. “I stepped on and obviously had to prove myself to gain some respect from the guys because everyone out here is really good, highly recruited and has a lot of juice to the name. There wasn’t a, ‘He’s from over there, we don’t like outsiders’ deal. It was nothing like that sort. Everything was filled with love and caring and support, and that made an easy transition.”

Everything became easier once he got on the court.

“He definitely led by example, especially in game situations of staying focused and being mentally tough,” Chevalier said. “Duane is definitely a verbal leader. One of his gifts is his ability to talk and not being afraid to talk in tough situations and lead the team.”

The season

Washington ended his season as a champion, as the Trailblazers won the California Open Division state championship. He had a key role in helping them get there with a near-miraculous shot to force overtime during a playoff game.

“There were four seconds left and we were taking the ball out full-court,” Chevalier said. “One of our players threw the ball the length of the court and he was able to catch it and have the wherewithal to get behind the three-point line and hit the three-point shot that sent us into overtime, and we ended up winning that game in double overtime. That was a huge game and a huge defining moment for us, to elevate us to the championship game and eventually the state championship. That was just one example of some of the great things he did over the course of the year.”

Chevalier said Washington would play both guard spots throughout the year and that he was successful in post-up situations. His strength, though, was his shooting ability.

“Over the course of the year he definitely evolved defensively with his ability to defend the basketball and understand help-side and be more of a contributing factor on the defensive end,” Chevalier said. “That definitely improved. Then his ability to attack the basket and get himself and other people shots also developed.”

When it was crunch time, though, Washington said he typically was making a play.

“I see myself as an all-around guy who can distribute the ball and make plays, but this year near the end of games I always had the ball in my hands,” he said. “If I was starting with it, if I was finishing the possession with it, it always ended up with me making a play in crunch time.

“I’ve talked about it with coach Holtmann and we’ve talked about position-less basketball, guys who make plays and guys who know how to play the game right. You can see that in the NBA. If you can play, you can play. I don’t really see a label or a reason to label somebody as only one thing. Just go out there and do what you can do. It’s really important to just play, and whatever coach Holtmann asks me to do, I’m going to do that and then some.”


Washington’s time at Sierra Canyon has introduced him to plenty of familiar names.

“Obviously I met Scottie Pippen,” he said. “I remember the first time I met him and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really who that is.’ Now I just walk up to him like, ‘What up, Unc?’ just like a really cool dude that I’ve gotten to know over these last few months. I’ve been over to his house a lot, hanging out with Scottie Jr. Also Kenyon Martin Sr. I’ve got to see Shaq. I know Kyle Kuzma, too. He’s from Michigan. I got to see him (behind the scenes) after Lakers games.”

Washington said he has been working out at Proactive Sports Performance since his season ended alongside a number of players who have been preparing for the NBA draft, including Keita Bates-Diop and Kansas product Devonte Graham.

“It’s crazy: L.A. is filled with celebrities, so if you walk around and you’re in the right place you’ll just see somebody you’ve seen on TV or is really famous or whatever,” he said.

Under the radar

The Ohio State coaches have quietly expressed a viewpoint that Washington will prove to be a steal when compared to his recruiting rankings. Chevalier wasn’t around for much of his recruitment, but he had a theory as well as an explanation for why he wound up with nearly three dozen Division I scholarship offers.

“Duane is one of those guys that evolved over time,” he said. “He started at the lower level where the lower-level schools were offering him and then the mid-major schools were offering him and then the high-major schools were offering him because he grew, he lost weight, his skill level grew, he became more athletic. He’s one of those guys that developed a little bit slower than the rest, but he is a special player. Ohio State will see that and you guys will enjoy him in so many ways there.”

Washington, who said he embraces the role of being hated, said he enjoyed the process.

“It was a great time in my life,” he said. “Some peoples’ recruiting processes are bad, so my dad always told me to enjoy it and trust it and everything will work out for the better.”