Junior forward Elijah Hughes has been the unequivocal leader of the 2019-20 Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team. Hughes has turned into everything and more for Syracuse this season while leading the ACC in scoring and earning First Team all conference honors in the process.
But one player on this Syracuse team that doesn’t get enough credit for his leadership is redshirt sophomore point guard Howard Washington. A look at the box scores wouldn’t suggest much, but that wouldn’t be telling of the impact that Washington has had on this Syracuse team.
A frequent vocal presence in practice and on the sideline during games, Washington is like a fourth assistant coach to his teammates.
“He’s like another coach out there. He helps us out no matter if he’s in the game or he’s not,” Joe Girard said after the Miami game. “He’s telling guys where to go, where to be. He’s just like another coach out there. He helps out in many ways that people don’t see.”
Washington has spent as many years in the Syracuse program as any other player on the current roster. A junior by academic class — just a sophomore by eligibility — the 6-foot-3 point guard has spent three years at SU. By now, he’s familiar with the system and understands what the coaching staff expects and synthesizes that information to his teammates. Buddy Boeheim says Washington is the smartest player he’s ever played with.
“He’s one of the best leaders I’ve seen. He’s always bringing energy. He’s always helping me out. I love being teammates with him. It’s really great to have someone like that on the bench, telling us what to do. He’s so smart. He has a high basketball IQ and he knows what he’s talking about,” Boeheim said.
When Washington isn’t in the game, he can be seen instructing his teammates from the sideline. During timeouts he’ll give suggestions to his counterparts and relay what he’s seeing from the bench. At times, he’ll give suggestions to the assistant coaches. That information is useful in game situations.
“It’s every game he’s telling me something. I’m getting two or three looks off of things he’s telling me. Just little things like that. Using a screen, being patient,” Buddy Boeheim said.
As a point guard, Washington knows the guard group best, but he also knows where the forwards and centers should be in the 2-3 zone and on offense. He’ll tell the bigs to rebound and to keep their head up if their head coach comes down on them.
“Just try to encourage them,” Washington says of his instruction. “Sometimes obviously coach yells. Every coach yells. So if you’re getting barked on or yelled on I try to pick them back up. If I was in that situation I would want someone to do that. I just try to help guys out.”
While he’s played exclusively as a reserve guard, Washington is still eager to assist his teammates who are ahead of him in rotation.
“He’s a team guy. He’s a leader. He wants to win and help out in any way he can,” Girard said.
“I just try to help my teammates out,” Washington says. “My teammates are my brothers. I want to see them succeed just as much as I want to.”
When he’s on the court, Washington is a pass-first point guard who runs the offense without turning it over. He’s also a capable defender in the 2-3 zone. But when he’s not in the game, Washington helps his team in any way he can.
It’s been well documented to this point, but the guard out of Buffalo has fought through some trying circumstances in his Syracuse career, including a torn ACL in his freshman year and suffering a stroke just prior to his sophomore season. His Syracuse teammates aren’t sure if the tribulations helps in leadership or not, but they admire his toughness and his fight.
“He’s been through a lot of adversity,” Boeheim summarized. “It shows how tough he is. We all look up to him, we know how tough he is.”
Girard, who played on the 15u Albany City Rocks AAU team when Washington was on the 17u team, said Washington has always been vocal. He’s possessed those leadership traits even prior to Syracuse.
“I’ve always been that way. I’m a real vocal guy. I always want to help. I like getting 10 assists rather than getting 20 points,” Washington expressed. “So I mean, I just like helping my teammates out and putting them in the best situation possible.”
As for why he knows the game so well? Washington gives credit to his dad for passing down his basketball knowledge.
“Just growing up I studied the game a lot with my dad. He was a pretty high IQ guy too. I think it just comes from (him),” Washington finished.