This is not meant as a how-to guide. Don’t try to replicate all this at home. But … but … the making of a go-to player has to begin somewhere. Drexel senior guard Keishana Washington has proven to be that player. First, for little stretches of Drexel games. Then whole games. Then big games.
By the end of her third season … Wow.
Last spring, a Colonial Athletic Association semifinal against James Madison, she scored 35 points. The next day she dropped 30 on Delaware. It was a pretty good 24 hours as Drexel locked up its first CAA title since 2009 and MVP of the tournament was a foregone conclusion.
Go back, though, to a home in Pickering, Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto.
“A bored child,” Randy Washington said. “There was a ball.”
His daughter, Keishana.
“She picked up the ball and threw it at me,” Randy said. “After a while, there was a vent. She’d throw it at the vent.”
The next step, to him, seemed obvious.
“I went to the Dollarama, bought a bunch of basketball nets,’’ Randy said.
This part, not so obvious …
“I think I bought 10 of them,” he said. “I placed them all around the house.”
Maybe you should try that at home. Everywhere this little girl walked, she could throw her ball at a hoop.
“I think I started at the age of 4,” Keishana said of her basketball beginnings. “My father used to play in a league twice a week. I’d go watch him play.”
Basketball wasn’t his sport, Randy said. He was more of a track guy and soccer player coming up, after moving to Toronto from his native Guyana. For him, hoops was just for recreation. For his daughter, one sport sprinted to the top.
“The first thing I noticed, I was faster than everyone,” Keishana said.
Yeah, coaches noticed that, too.
“She’s the most skilled girl I’ve ever coached,” said Brian Breedy, which is all the more impressive when you find out Breedy’s own daughter is a four-year starter at Division I Oakland University. Breedy was Washington’s coach from fourth grade on, for about six years, with the Scarborough Basketball Association.
Geography is another part of this story.
“The better part,” Breedy said. “She’s a Canadian, across the border.”
You don’t follow hoops if you haven’t noticed Canadians making it to the NBA. Well, the women’s game in Canada, and around Toronto especially, has advanced in similar fashion. Washington ended up playing on a provincial select team that has players now at Arizona, Coastal Carolina, and Buffalo. When she moved up to a national team, there also were future Stanford and Wake Forest players.
Since Washington held her own, that’s part of how, if you’re Drexel, you end up with a go-to player. It wasn’t immediate. Drexel coach Amy Mallon said it includes learning it’s all right to understand you’re going to miss a shot. She remembers telling Washington, “You’re going to go 5-for-19, it’s OK. I expect you to have those games.”
That understanding allowed her to realize she could impact games in other ways. When you realize you don’t have to score to be successful … it’s counterintuitive, but maybe you score a little more.
Maybe if you’re closer to 5-foot-6, you’re viewed as a little undersize for the big time. Not a new story. Go back again, though. What else got her here? It might surprise you that Canada has taken stabs at schools that build around hoops. Her last two years of high school, Washington went to a school where classes were built around sports more than the other way around.
“Strength and conditioning in the morning, then an individual workout, then two classes in the afternoon, back to the gym,” Keishana said. “Then two ‘booklet’ classes.”
Like online classes, she said. How’d it work out? Terrific. Allowing for more travel, more exposure, more competition. It was hard to leave her local school, but this was close enough that she could live at home. Just a little more sacrifice for the whole family. Her team made it to the Boo Williams in Virginia and other big Nike events in the states.
“I think God was on our side,” Randy said in terms of the opportunities for his daughter.
“When I first met Keishana, she was actually in middle school,” said Christa Eniojukan, who coached her with the Durham Elite travel team and her provincial team. “She was a crafty little guard, but she never spoke. Super shy, super quiet. Her basketball presence, never a problem. She had a natural feel. It was a battle to get her to talk.”
A coach’s dream in another sense. Whatever Washington was asked to do, she did.
“Her basketball IQ is off the charts,” said Eniojukan, now the coach at York University in Toronto. “Knew every position, from a very young age. Knew end-game scenarios, all that … She had that little swagger to her game. She played inner-city Toronto basketball growing up, and she played against guys.”
Her brother was one of those guys. Schoolyard games. One-on-one, two-on-two. She did all that, Breedy said. Throwback stuff.
“She was showing all sorts of dribble moves, very young,” Eniojukan said. “She was one of the first girls I coached who had that mid-range floater game from an early age.”
So the coach’s project was to get Washington to find her voice, share her knowledge, “build that up.”
Her dad learned more basketball along with his children, but sprinting was his wheelhouse.
“When she was young, she used to drag her feet while she ran,” Randy Washington said. “While dragging, she was still pretty quick. I’d tell her, ‘Imagine how quick you could be?’ ‘’
That child who first found a ball and used a vent for a basket, she didn’t need to be pushed to keep picking it up.
“She had a desire to always compete,” Randy said. “When you want to compete, you want to train. We always got to the gym about half an hour before a practice. She’d try to get 200 or 300 shots up.”
He saw the competition heat up, then overheat, remembering a close game when she was about 10 years old.
“She started hyperventilating,” Randy said, remembering getting out to the court to tell her that the game didn’t matter. “It just show how badly her desire was to win.”
He sees it still, a ballplayer who scored 65 points in two pivotal March college hoop games on consecutive days. (“My teammates definitely trusted the ball in my hands. I just felt like I was in the zone.”)
This summer, Washington worked most on her delivery time, working to get her shot up faster. Sure, those were great CAA games, but she wasn’t forgetting the seven points she had against Georgia in the NCAA tournament.
The making of a go-to player? Yeah, that never ends.