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La Salle big man Tony Washington gets baskets and stares

First in a series looking at some of Philadelphia's men's basketball players to watch.

La Salle basketball player Tony Washington.
La Salle basketball player Tony Washington.Read moreAvi Steinhardt/ For the Inquirer

First in an occasional series of profiles of key basketball players on the City Six teams.

Tony Washington has been known to wander around La Salle's campus telling people he is Native American from a reservation and once was the leader of a folk music group. And the 6-foot-10 African American basketball player often is seen wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat.

So he likes Donald Trump?

"I like Donald Trump just to annoy other people," Washington said.

So his politics are?

"I don't really care much about politics," Washington said.

It is just his personality.

"He's extremely silly, will tell you ridiculous things with a completely straight face and he can keep people believing in things for a long time," La Salle coach John Giannini said.

The MAGA hat, Washington said, starts a lot of conversations.

"That's the best conversation starter," Washington said. "Some people just try to take it off and say, 'why are you wearing that hat?' "

Washington, of course, never lets anybody in on the act.

As much fun as Washington insists on having in life, it got quite serious a year ago. Coach and player were thinking double-double when the fall semester began. Then, during early morning conditioning while Giannini was away recruiting, Washington did not feel well, knew something was amiss.

"I was very dehydrated," Washington said. "I was running hard after not eating or drinking the night before. I had some type of irregular heartbeat so I had to get that checked out."

They were taking no chances.

"Spent a couple days doing all the cardiac tests to make sure someone's safe," Giannini said. "I'm a squeamish person, so I get queasy hearing about those tests, so I can only imagine how it would be for a young person who was probably never in a hospital before."

Turned out Washington was fine physically, but something was off after that episode.

"He was a really good player, potential all-conference guy in September," Giannini said. "He just kind of wasn't the same since. After that episode, he took a week off. His attitude was certainly tremendous as it always is, but whether it was physical or mental, he was never quite as good after that."

The numbers tell the story. As a third-year sophomore, Washington started 25 games, averaged 26.7 minutes per game, went for 7.7 points and 7.4 rebounds while blocking 44 shots.

Last season, he started 12 games, played 15.9 minutes per game, averaged 5.0 points and 4.0 rebounds while blocking just 10 shots. He was not the same.

"My preseason was really good," Washington said. "After that, my regular workouts kind of stopped. It wasn't as good as my summer workouts. It kind of threw me off a ton, I guess."

The coach was very delicate around his big man last season.

"Sometimes, you worry about talking about it more, you make someone more conscious of it," Giannini said. "Tony's the kind of guy who responds to positivity."

That is all yesterday's news.

"Fast forward to this summer and he just looks terrific," Giannini said. "He's confident, he's motivated. … He should have the kind of year you would expect from a fifth-year senior who has a lot of game experience."

Washington, in fact, expects that double-double and the rim protection La Salle's well below-average defense did not have last season. La Salle has two serious scorers in B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell. Washington, the coach hopes, will be that third scoring option.

Washington is from Greenville, S.C, but spent a high school year in Detroit. La Salle saw him at the Miller School in Charlottesville, Va.

"I am of the opinion that big guys in our league require some time and development to be a major player on a winning team," Giannini said.

So Washington took a redshirt and then played limited minutes behind Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack. Then, he played really well before he didn't.

"I don't think I got back in my regular routine after I had to take all those days off," Washington said.


"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in since I've been at La Salle," Washington said.

He really is thinking double-double for his final season. His blocks, he promised, will be back up where they were.

"I saw the ball coming [to block], but my body just couldn't reach it in time," Washington said.

Now, he's healthy. He's ready. And he still wears that hat.