Hello, March Madness: Ohio State's Duane Washington Jr. poised for run in spotlight
When he takes the court on Friday, Duane Washington Jr. of Ohio State will be re-introduced to a national television audience, this time on college basketball’s biggest stage.
But although the Buckeyes' game against Oral Roberts in West Lafayette, Indiana, might be his first chance to shine in the spotlight that is the NCAA Tournament, Washington has been dancing for some time.
Publicly, he shows it as the music pumps through the arena’s speakers before the opening tip-off. Having hugged each of his coaches, telling them he loves them, Washington’s teammates in the bench area feed off the energy and start to groove. Seth Towns typically leads the way, busting out the “Griddy” dance as his fellow reserves follow along like a slow-moving train headed to midcourt.
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On the court, Washington heads in the his teammates' direction, grinning and sharing the moment with them. Then, as he did in the Big Ten tournament, he goes out and assumes the role of Ohio State’s leading scorer, an offensive focal point and a magnet for the camera.
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The national audience on CBS will see it all Friday. What does Washington hope they take away from the experience?
“I’m going to bring positive energy, great energy, picking up my teammates, playmaking and shot-making, doing everything I can to try to help our team win,” he said this week.
The NCAA Tournament is built to turn players of Washington’s caliber into household names. A high-volume, occasionally deadly accurate guard who is certain to have the ball in his hands for a chance at a game-winning shot is the type of player whose impact is often remembered long after his career is complete.
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That much became evident as he poured in a Big Ten tournament-record 92 points during Ohio State’s four-game run that came up short with a three-point overtime loss to Illinois in the title game on Sunday.
Time after time throughout the week, though, it was Washington getting to the rim, Washington hitting a big three, Washington celebrating a big moment, fists clenched, eyes wide and mouth screaming.
Chris Holtmann on Washington: 'He's supremely confident'
In a season played primarily without fans, that passion helped unite and fuel his teammates.
“Duane certainly expresses how he feels,” said Jake Diebler, Washington’s position coach. “I love the joy that he plays with and I love how much he loves the game. When you have a young man who works hard and has those two things, great things are going to happen for him on the court and that makes it fun.”
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That joy and emotion is always near the surface for Washington, a junior from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Sometimes it leads to one too many ill-advised shots, a look from coach Chris Holtmann that Washington has described as “staring through your whole soul” and a temporary spot on the bench.
But it also has endeared him to his fellow Buckeyes, who feed off the energy and Washington’s natural charisma.
“He’s supremely confident,” Holtmann said. “Sometimes that’s gotten him in trouble, and we’re all aware of that, too. He’s such a gifted player.”
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In three seasons, Washington is tied for 51st in program history with 1,055 points. If he attempts six more three-pointers this season, it will be the third-most threes attempted in a season team history.
Only six of Washington’s points have come in the NCAA Tournament, though, as a freshman who played 21 total minutes in 2019 NCAA games against Iowa State and Houston.
“This year it’s going to be different,” he said. “My role is different. There’s a process with this basketball thing. You have to trust it and fully give yourself to it. Once you do that, you see greatness slowly come into fruition.”
That belief, coupled with his skill set and talent, makes for compelling theater. What more could you ask for in March?
Ohio State vs. Oral Roberts
Where: West Lafayette, Ind.
When: 3 p.m. Friday
TV: CBS (Ch. 10)
Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)