As the offseason rolls on and the Syracuse staff looks to round out the 2017-18 roster, one name that hasn’t received much hype is point guard signee Howard Washington Jr. The Buffalo, New York native wrapped up an impressive senior campaign north of the border at Athlete Institute in Mono, Ontario, averaging 17.9 PPG, 9.4 APG and 6.9 RPG for the Bears. Washington committed to Jim Boeheim in March, and in April was named to the prestigious BioSteel All Canadian Game, Canada’s version of the McDonald’s All-American Game.
Washington will be coming to Syracuse on May 22, where he told me he’ll be rooming with his AI teammate and Orange forward commit Oshae Brissett. Washington will be in Syracuse for the six week spring session, getting a head start in the classroom (where he plans to study sports management) and in the Melo Center.
We caught up with Washington over the phone for a wide-ranging discussion. Like my discussion with John Gillon after he signed last spring, I found Washington to be confident, engaging, and ready to make a big impact as Orange floor general.
OG: You’ve said that Syracuse was your dream school when you were a kid growing up in Buffalo. What attracted you to Syracuse when you were a kid? Was it because it was relatively close by or was there something about the style of play that made you a fan?
HW: A little bit of both. Growing up in Buffalo, they were the biggest, closest school to home, so it was fun to watch. I could get down there easily. But then there were guys coming through the program like Jonny Flynn, who’s from near Buffalo (Niagara Falls), Tyler Ennis, who is a guy I work out with a lot and look up to. Just watching guys like that, I couldn’t help but be a fan and love this school.
OG: Can you talk a little but about how your recruitment went with Syracuse and who your primary recruiter was?
HW: My primary recruiter was Coach [Adrian] Autry and then Mike Hopkins, and then [Hop] left but primarily it was Coach Autry. When I was younger Syracuse was recruiting me. And then for a while they weren’t recruiting me as hard. I was going to go somewhere else [Butler] and decommitted. And that’s when I knew where I wanted to go. I love this school. Then we got back in touch with Coach Autry and after a year or two of working out, I came back better and stronger and they loved what they were seeing. They started recruiting me again, getting out to see me a bunch of times. Obviously I was a teammate with Oshae this year and they were talking to me and watching me a lot. We built a great relationship and this all reassured me that [SU] was where I wanted to be.
OG: Athlete Institute was your third high school, so how has your game evolved playing for three different schools and three different coaches and systems?
HW: Freshman and sophomore year I played locally in Buffalo (Canisius H.S.). I was young but made First and Second Team All-Western New York. My parents thought I should get out of Buffalo’s talent [pool] and play the best competition, so I went down to Montverde (Fla.) for the start of my junior year and the competition level changed. I learned a lot defensively at that high level, learning how to guard guys who aren’t little kids compared to guys in Buffalo. That step helped me, learning how to be coached, taking criticism while playing under Coach [Kevin] Boyle.
And then my next step from Montverde to Athlete Institute was one of my best decisions in that Athlete Institute was focused on wanting their players to be successful and really caring about their guys growing. They focused on dialing in on the weight room, dialing in on health and nutrition, meal plans and all that stuff and that’s what I needed to get to this next level and get ready to play in the ACC.
OG: How do you think you fit into the Syracuse system as a point guard?
HW: I think I’m going to mold in well and be successful there. I love coming off ball screens, whether it’s coming off to score, knock down a jump shot, hit the open man, make the right read. I know all of the reads off a ball screen and obviously that will be sharpened up, working with Coach [Gerry] McNamara. That’s my favorite thing on offense, the pick and roll, so I think I’ll blend in well that way and I’ll have guys that can catch the ball at the rim and dunk it, guys who can knock down shots on the perimeter. Just sitting in with all this great talent around me will make me even better.
OG: How about defensively, being up top in the 2-3 zone? What is your experience playing zone and how do you think you’re going to fit in there?
HW: We played a lot of zone this year at the Institute because we were a big short, so we needed to focus on rebounding and we played a lot of 2-3 zone. It’s based on I.Q. Syracuse plays it a little differently so I need to learn that. Coach Boeheim was talking to my parents and saying that you can see with [my] length that [I’ll] be great at the top of the zone, so I will fit in fine. I’m a high I.Q. player. As soon as they tell me how to do it, I’ll make sure I perfect it and be good at.
OG: What have the coaches told you their expectations are of you and what you need to work on? How are you preparing for the season?
HW: I’m going down there in May for six weeks to really sharpen things up, get in the gym and get better every day. There’s really nothing in particular that they don’t like in my game or that I need to make a vast improvement on before the season starts.
OG: You’re currently about 6-foot-3 and 185. You have put on some weight. Coming into the ACC with a lot of big, strong athletes, do you feel you need to hit the weights and get stronger?
HW: Yes. I left Montverde at 160-165. And I’ve jumped at Athlete Institute to 185, as you said, so I’ve been focusing on my body in that year-and-a half. I’m in great shape right now, I’m working out every day and it can only get better, working with all the guys at Syracuse for the first six weeks of the summer.
OG: One guy you’ve worked with and been teammates with is Oshae Brissett. How is that chemistry going to help you guys coming in together? And can you talk about his game and what he’s going to bring to the table?
HW: It’s going to be great. We’re the closest of friends off the court, and on the court we just naturally mesh. I am a point guard he loves to play with because I love getting my teammates the ball. I can score but I love getting my teammates the ball so he can’t help but love playing with me. I know where he wants the ball after playing with him this year. I know I can put it up at the rim and he’ll go get it, or I know where he wants it for his fadeaway. We have a lot of chemistry and when we get on the court together next season it’s going to be great.
OG: You took an official visit to Syracuse last weekend and scrimmaged with some of the guys. Can you tell me whom you played with and how that went?
HW: I got out of the car after an hour and a half drive and hopped right into a scrimmage. [laughs] John Gillon was there, Tyus Battle, Matt Moyer. It was fun. I fit right in and they made me feel welcomed. We got at it and we all played well.
OG: What are your expectations on a team level? Obviously Syracuse still has some offers out for this coming year but what do you think of the pieces that are part of the team?
HW: I feel with the pieces we have, we are looking good. We have scoring from the wing. a facilitating point guard, some bigs down low. We have all the pieces as long as we mesh together and play well. Coach is telling me and I’ve talked to him as well, we are trying get Jordan Tucker here and I think that will be our last piece in there for one more guy on the wing that can shoot it.
OG: Are you trying to recruit Tucker at all?
HW: Yeah, we’re pretty cool. We’re pretty close. We’re both from the state of New York, so we played with each other a lot… AAU.
OG: What are your thoughts on the Dome and playing on that huge stage?
HW: I’ve played in NBA arenas before. The jitters won’t get to me. I love playing in front of people so it’s not scary or anything.
OG: If a Syracuse fan hasn’t seen you play, how would you describe your game?
HW: A real tough point guard, who does whatever it takes to win. I can shoot the ball really well. That’s the best thing I do: shoot the ball really well and I love getting my teammates the ball. I’m a team-first point guard who’s going to make everyone else better and help the team win.
OG: Where do you see yourself in five years?
HW: This is what I love. I love basketball. I see myself being a pro in five years. My main goal is to get to the NBA as fast as possible and if not, high professional basketball somewhere else.
OG: And what about after a pro career?
HW: After I hang the shoes up, I probably want to get into coaching. I am a coach on the court, being a point guard, so I think that’s the path I want to go down.
OG: Lastly, do you have a message to Syracuse fans as we get ready for another season?
HW: It should be a show this year. I hope everyone comes out and we do well. It should be a show.
Follow Vince on Twitter @IommiCuseFan