Former coaches loved working with Ohio State's Duane Washington Jr., 'Headaches and all'
Andre Chevalier laughed the type of laugh only a man who has been there can muster.
A fixture in the Los Angeles basketball scene, the longtime coach and trainer is currently the boys basketball coach at Sierra Canyon High School, where four years ago he had the opportunity to coach a team that included senior-year transfer Duane Washington Jr. Together, they helped take the Trailblazers to California’s 2018 open division championship.
Chevalier has seen the highs that can come with coaching a player of Washington’s caliber. And yet, when hears that Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann tells reporters that although he always loves him, Washington will send him “to an early death” with some of his in-game decisions, Chevalier can’t help but laugh.
“I understand completely,” Chevalier told The Dispatch. “(Duane) is confident beyond belief. He doesn’t think that there’s anything offensively that he can’t do. It was definitely the fine line and balance of letting him explore his game but at the same time sometimes telling him that a shot is not a good shot.
“Even though Duane causes you headaches, he’s open to learning and open to getting better. He wants to be great.”
Entering Thursday’s game at Penn State, Washington is second on the Buckeyes (17-4, 11-4) in scoring, and a significant reason they have made a surprising climb to No. 4 in the national polls. At 14.6 points per game, Washington has four 20-plus scoring games this season, leads Ohio State in minutes played and has ascended to go-to status during his third season in the program.
And yet, there are still those plays that cause Holtmann to pound the scorers’ table or pull Washington from the game for another discussion following a badly forced shot, a careless turnover or the occasional mental mistake.
For Washington’s first three years of high school, Mark Warners lived it. As the coach at Grand Rapids Christian in Michigan, Warners welcomed a “little, pudgy” freshman into his program who brought some shooting ability and unsurpassed self-confidence.
Three games into his freshman year, Washington had played his way into the starting lineup. The potential was clear, but so was the potential for many teachable moments.
“You can’t help but love the kid. But on the basketball floor, he’s so smart but there’s some things he does that it’s almost like he can’t help himself,” Warners said. “He’s made a shot or two in a row, and I’ll just say to my assistant, ‘Something bad is gonna happen. Here it comes.’ ”
The ability to take big shots, to believe the next one is going in even if the previous nine have missed, all comes from a place of supreme inner confidence that Washington appears to have been born with.
“That mentality, man, you have that when you’re 1 or 2 years old when you’re eating Cheerios confidently on the table,” Washington said. “It’s something I’ve always had and people have told me I always had. It’s my identity, being confident and willing to take those shots.”
Both Chevalier and Warners echoed the less-publicized part of Holtmann’s statements about Washington — that while he can drive a coach mad they still loved coaching him.
When Washington made the decision to transfer to Sierra Canyon as a senior to live with his uncle, 13-year NBA veteran Derek Fisher, Warners said Washington came to his house, sat in his living room for an hour and discussed all aspects of the situation rather than opting for a less-personable phone call.
Chevalier recalled an event shortly after Washington’s arrival, where he was in a gym full of new faces and he warmly introduced himself to each one — even those who, he would later find out, had nothing to do with the basketball program. At Grand Rapids, he sang in the gospel choir.
“It doesn’t happen very often that a player that talented who you love that much drives you crazy from time to time,” Warners said. “He’s in a class by himself. I can’t think of any like that.”
All true, Chevalier said, adding that his only wish was that he would have had more time coaching Washington. And whatever is ahead for the junior, his former coaches will be watching and cheering.
“No matter what Duane decides to do with his life, he is going to be a success at it because of who he is as a person and how he operates and loves people and supports people,” Chevalier said. “I’m looking forward to his NBA career, but more looking forward to how he’s going to change the world — or run the world. He has that quality for sure.”
That is, assuming those working with him can live through the process.