Saturday, December 17, 2005

UCLA Backcourt Too Much for Michigan, Bruins Win

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

Despite having to travel across country from sunny Westwood to frozen Ann Arbor - during finals week - the UCLA Bruins (8-1) beat the Michigan Wolverines 68-61.

The UCLA backcourt proved to be the difference maker. Again.

Sophomore guard Arron Afflalo scored the first 14 of the Bruins 16 points in the first half and single-handedly kept his team in the game.

The Wolverines (7-1) scored the first eight points of the game until Afflalo sparked a Bruin rally by hitting a 3 pointer six minutes into the game.

Afflalo finished the game with 20 points, 17 in the first half, and shot 6 of 8 from behind the arc.

Darren Collison, the freshman guard out of Etiwanda high school, came off the bench to ignite again the Bruin offense in both the first and second half.

Collison assisted on four quick baskets to lead the Bruins on a 11-2 run in the first half; and then Collison scored 7 points in the second half to help the Bruins to a 57-44 lead.

The Wolverines could not stay in front of the speedy guard as Collison beat them off dribble drives for easy floaters at the baskets.

Jordan Farmar had a very difficult first half scoring only 6 points and seemed to be bothered by the physical defensive play of Michigan's Daniel Horton - especially when he had two uncharacteristic turnovers at halfcourt under tough pressure by Horton.

The second half was a different story for Farmar - as the sophomore guard scored 15 of 21 points on 3 of 5 shooting from the arc.

Farmar's offense appeared to improve whenever Darren Collison entered the game which then allowed Farmar to move over to the shooting guard spot and he was able to wander around the court and get open either for open three point shots or drives into the paint.

At the end, the backcourt of Farmar, Afflalo, and Collison accounted for most of the offense - the three guards combined for 48 of the 68 Bruins total points in the game

The guards did the job on the offensive end, but UCLA won this game on the defensive end. While the Bruins struggled to score in the first until Afflalo's offensive outburst, it was the Bruins defense which kept them in the game.

The Michigan starting big men, Courtney Sims and Graham Brown, combined for an anemic 1 of 2 shooting from the field. Coach Ben Howland's strategy throughout the whole game was to double down whenever either Sims or Brown got the ball down low forcing them to either pass the ball out or commit turnovers.

Sophomore Lorenzo Mata started the game against Sims, although freshman Ryan Wright had earned the starting spot during practice - but Wright was three minutes late to the team bus in the morning and thus was disciplined in not staring by Howland.

Mata and Wright played effectively in the middle garnering 34 of the 40 minutes at the five spot and contributing a combined 14 rebounds, 8 points, and 1 blocked shot.

Wright especially was active on both ends causing problems defensively with his quickness by tipping balls and getting to rebounds - he also had four offensive rebounds.

The Bruins had 11 steals as they frustrated the Wolverines by getting their hands into the passing lanes for steals and transition baskets.

With just over seven minutes in the game the Bruins had pulled out to a 57-44 lead, but the Wolverines mounted a comeback as it appeared the Bruins tried to shorten the game by slowing the pace and using up the clock. As it happened during the Nevada game late, the Bruins ended up taking bad shots with the clock winding down, and Michigan was able to cut the lead to four with over two minutes left.

But the Bruin backcourt came through again, but this time on the defensive end.

With 1:30 left and the Bruins up by only four points, Arron Afflalo stole a Graham Brown outlet pass and then dished to a wide open Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for a lay-up.

Then on the next play Michigan's 6'6 Lester Abram had his pass deflected in the paint by a leaping 6'2 Darren Collison with the ball landing in the hands of Jordan Farmar putting an end to Michigan's chances.

The UCLA defense held Michigan to 41.7% FG shooting and to only 5-23 (21%) 3-point FG shooting.

Arron Afflalo held Michigan's best player guard Daniel Horton to 5-17 shooting and 0-7 from behind the arc.

The season is beginning to look promising for this young Bruin squad.

After a big win against a ranked opponent last week (Nevada) and then traveling to a tough Big 10 away game for a win - the Bruins have shown a toughness that has been missing in Westwood for a long time. Not only on defense, but also on offense where the Bruins have shown resiliency and maturity on offense and have found a way to win.

And it all begins with the fabulous backcourt.


(photo credit-AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Arron Afflalo Leading Bruins By Example

By Bruin Basketball Report

Coach Ben Howland calls Arron Afflalo a "warrior", a player who takes more pride in making a defensive stop than he does sinking a three-point basket. "Shutting that other guy out; that's just like scoring," Afflalo says.

In one scrimmage earlier this year, walk-on Kelvin Kim was attempting to bring up the ball when Afflalo picked him up in the backcourt - he denied Kim any sort of forward progress and then stole the ball away from him - Afflalo banged his chest and celebrated the defensive stop. He wasn't trying to show up another player but was showing his pride in his defense.

No matter whether it is a big game or scrimmage, an opponent's star player or walk-on teammate - Afflalo takes defending a player as a personal challenge to himself.

However, this year's Bruin season has been plagued by injuries in the early going. Josh Shipp, the third leading scorer last year, hasn't played a single game due to hip surgery, Jordan Farmar missed the preseason and two regular season games due to injuries, and the center position has suffered multiple injuries.

Afflalo has had to step forward on the offensive end - and he has come through for his team. Afflalo is leading the Bruins in scoring with 18.1 ppg on 49% FG% shooting and has made 21-52 three point shots for a 40% clip. Not to mention Afflalo also is the second leading rebounder on the team with 4.8 rpg and leads in total minutes played (283 minutes).

Against Nevada Afflalo had 18 points and 8 rebounds yet his performance was overshadowed by his backcourt mate Jordan Farmar who scored 24 points mostly in the second half.

Nothing new. Farmar usually gets the attention.

Jordan Farmar can usually be found shouting out instructions to his teammates on the court, extolling them on when a crucial stop or rally is needed, or actively working the refs during the game. Farmar is vocal and a natural born leader.

Afflalo is a leader too but he provides his leadership differently - he does it by example. By making the defensive stop, taking the big shot when no one else will, hustling back to stop a break, or diving for a loose ball - Afflalo inspires his teammates with his heart and soul for the game.

Teamed with fellow sophomore star, Jordan Farmar, they make up perhaps the best backcourt tandem in the country.

Others are taking notice of Afflalo. See the article links below:

Afflalo's ultimate goal: Bringing UCLA back among the elite. That opportunity was the main reason the kid from Compton, Calif., chose the program. "That's what you dream about," he says. "Not in a selfish way but as a goal and a challenge." MSNBC

Super Sophomores - Afflalo is big and smooth, and as you can see from his shooting percentages he has become much more efficient on offense. Sports Illustrated


UCLA Men's Basketball Injury Update (12/17)

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No.14 UCLA Bruins take on the unranked Wolverines today at 9AM PT as 6.5 point underdogs. The negative spread is primarily due to Michigan's home court advantage and the fact that many view the Wolverines as underrated in the polls at this point. Michigan is undefeated with a record of 7-0.

Nevertheless, this will be a tough test for the young Bruin squad - whose player just finished taking their finals while on this road trip. However, the Bruins did receive some very good news yesterday about their front line.

Seven-foot senior Michael Fey hobbled by an ankle sprain, he suffered during practice a few weeks ago, has healed sufficiently and is available to play in this game.

Lorenzo Mata (concussion) was cleared by the doctor to play and has been practicing is expected to play today.

While freshman Alfred Aboya whose knee was swollen both after the Nevada game and practice will also be available if needed against Michigan.

Michigan has a big frontline in Courtney Sims (6'11) and Graham Brown (6'9). Courtney Sims is Michigan's leading scorer at 16.6 points ppg, while Brown is their leading rebounder with 8.7 rpg.

Freshman Ryan Wright will likely start the game at center but the Bruins now have some of their depth back along the front line.

They will need all of it in Ann Arbor.


Friday, December 16, 2005

"Desperate Program"- Arizona Wildcats?

By Bruin Basketball Report

The PAC-10 has suffered a number of non-conference set-back losses this year in basketball. Two programs which were expected to challenge for the PAC-10 title along with UCLA - Stanford and Arizona, have fallen on hard times.

Stanford had embarrassing early losses to Montana, UC Irvine, and UC Davis (chant goes: just like football).

But perhaps the biggest thud can be heard over at the Tucson campus of Arizona with a story about senior star guard, Hassan Adams who was charged over the weekend by police for disorderly conduct while partying at an apartment party.

Despite the conduct and arrest, Arizona head coach Lute Olson announced yesterday that Adams would indeed play in the Wildcat's next game.

Is this a sign of desperate times at Arizona?

The Arizona Wildcats have already lost three games this season and were left off one top 25 poll this week and are on the cusp of coming off the other. A Wildcat loss or unconvincing win this weekend against Utah would most certainly drop Arizona completely from the rankings. Additionally earlier this week, Arizona announced that sophomore Jesus Verdejo was transferring out of the program to University of Miami.

Indeed, tough times in Tucson. Below are links to articles around the Hassan Adams story:

The Arizona basketball team's problems veered off-court last weekend, when star forward Hassan Adams was charged with disorderly conduct. Adams was charged during a party in the parking lot of his apartment complex at 2800 W. Broadway just after midnight Saturday when he did not follow an officer's instructions to leave, police said. Arizona Daily Star

Hassan Adams, Arizona's leading scorer, may not play when the University of Utah men's basketball team hosts the No. 24 Wildcats on Saturday. Adams, 21, was arrested Sunday after an incident outside his apartment in Tucson, according to a police report. There were roughly 200 people in the parking lot at 2 a.m. when the party apparently turned into a fight. Salt Lake Tribune

Arizona senior Hassan Adams will be in the starting lineup against Utah on Saturday, UA basketball coach Lute Olson said yesterday. USA Today

(updated 12:24PM) And of course, BruinsNation has their own take on this Arizona issue.

(updated 10:00PM) Bruin Hoop Scoop has also taken notice of Lute Olson's convenient oversight of his player's behavior and arrest.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lake Oswego Reloads, Feels the (Kevin) Love

Kevin Love is approaching a level of acclaim that might be unprecedented in Oregon high school basketball history, and he is only just beginning his junior season. His future -- a year at Duke, North Carolina or UCLA before going pro? -- is the subject of constant speculation.

The 6-foot-10, 260-pound center for top-ranked Lake Oswego also is in better shape than he was last season and is more focused on trying to bring home a Class 4A state championship.

"What he's doing now is hitting the outside shot," Shoff said. "The rebounds, outlet passes, he does everything a little better. He's a lot more athletic. And he's going to keep getting better." Oregonian

Bracing Himself - Cedric Bozeman

It was the defining moment of this impressive comeback season for Cedric Bozeman. It wasn't a basket-rattling dunk and or a game-altering three-pointer or a crowd-cheering pass

In fact, there was no crowd around. Just UCLA Coach Ben Howland and Bozeman. The coach simply told his player to take off the brace on his right knee before heading onto the court for practice.

And that was the moment.

With that simple act, Bozeman freed himself from a season of agony and frustration, freed himself to again cruise down the court, fight through screens and attack the basket with his old abandon. L.A. Times

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Collison is Emerging as Contributor for Bruins

"I've been getting more comfortable, but especially after this game I'm a lot more confident out there," said Collison, who then smiled and added: "This is just the beginning for me at UCLA. You guys haven't seen nothing yet."

His teammates would disagree. They've already seen enough to understand why Collison was named the CIF I-AA Player of the Year a year ago, as well as a Parade Magazine fourth-team All-American. Daily Breeze

UCLA vs. Michigan (Ann Arbor) - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No. 14 ranked UCLA Bruins (7-1) travel to Ann Arbor for an early Saturday afternoon game against the Michigan Wolverines (7-0) in front of a nationally televised audience.

Michigan has steadily been climbing in both polls and just missed a top 25 ranking this week which makes the upcoming contest against UCLA a huge game for the Wolverines. "It's going to be a big game for us", Michigan forward Lester Abram said. "It's an ESPN game and Dicky V. is coming to town".

Last year the UCLA defeated Michigan in Westwood 81-79. Fifth year head coach Tommy Amaker has a veteran team this year (10 seniors/juniors), and returns all five starters from last year's squad which consists of three seniors, a red-shirt junior, and a junior.

The undisputed leader of the team is 6'3 205lb senior guard Daniel Horton. He is averaging 15.1 ppg (51% FG%), 5.1 apg, 2.5 steals, and is a 3-pt threat (41%). The senior guard is a big game performer - in an earlier game versus Notre Dame the Wolverines lost a big lead in the second half but Horton wouldn't let the them falter by hitting three key 3-point shots down the stretch. Horton did not play in last year's game against UCLA which has buoyed the Wolverine's hopes for a better showing in this year's game.

Horton's backcourt mate, junior Dion Harris is powerfully built just like Horton at 6'3 205lb . Harris is averaging 9.1 ppg and 3.4 apg. He likes to shoot from behind the arc - more than half of his field goal attempts have been 3-point attempts (35 of 61). His 3pt FG% is the same as his total FG% at 37%.

Courtney Sims is the Wolverine's 6'11 245lb junior center who leads the team in scoring 16.4 ppg, blocks 1.3 bpg, and is second on the team in rebounds 8.0. He is most effective down low although he does not possess soft hands as evidenced by his 2.7 turnover per game, yet he has made an astounding percentage of his shots this year at a 68% (FG%) clip.

At the wing position is 6'6 red-shirt junior Lester Abram. He has been somewhat of an inconsistent performer for Michigan this year but is still scoring 12.9 ppg with a 52 FG%. Abram knows how to get to the free throw line going 7-7 in his last game versus S. Florida.

The starting five is rounded off by their blue-collar senior power forward 6'9 255lb Graham Brown, the Wolverines leading rebounder (8.7 rpg). Brown has absolutely no offensive game but he will be busy on Saturday setting hard picks to get their wing players free for open shots.

The Wolverines don't make many mistakes on offense especially in the backcourt. Both Horton and Harris have almost a 3:1 assist/turnover ratio. They like to play pressure defense but do not like to get into a transition game - and probably will not want to get into one with the Bruins.

Daniel Horton is a physical guard who poses the biggest threat for UCLA, but fortunately for the Bruins, Arron Afflalo is their best man-to-man defender and should match up well physically against Horton.

Injuries again at the five spot will be a challenge for the Bruins. Both Alfred Aboya and Michael Fey will most likely miss the game and Lorenzo Mata is questionable. (see injury report below)

Although Courtney Sims is not an offensive weapon like Nevada's Nick Fazekas, he still is the leading scorer for the Wolverines. After an impressive solid 33 minutes effort against Nevada last weekend, look for freshman Ryan Wright to get the start against Michigan - that is if he outrebounded the other centers during practice, a ritual that coach Ben Howland started a few games ago. Ryan Hollins will be the primary back-up at center or may play more if Wright falters.

With the Bruin offense it is always about tempo, specifically setting a fast tempo. As coach Howland has stated many times before - the Bruins best offense is their "fastbreak". The Bruins must set the tempo although it will be more difficult to do in an away game and with such a young Bruin squad. Nevertheless, easy transition baskets are what the Bruins will need to win against Michigan on Saturday.

And of course solid Bruin defense will be called upon again. UCLA will need to communicate effectively off the Michigan screens and picks, and pressure the ball on the perimeter as much as possible. The Bruins match up well defensively at every position expect perhaps at center which is a wildcard at this point considering the Bruins are starting a freshman against a veteran college center.

Injury notes:

Freshman Alfred Aboya had a set back with his injured knee. After the Nevada game his knee developed some fluid which limited his minutes, however during practice this week Aboya banged knees with Ryan Hollins and he experienced even more swelling - thus Aboya will probably not play this weekend.

Senior center Michael Fey has not fully recovered from his sprained ankle and is doubtful against Michigan unless it improves dramatically over the next couple of days.

Still recovering from a concussion he suffered during practice a week ago, Lorenzo Mata is listed as day to day. He has not received permission from doctors to begin playing.

Great news about Josh Shipp and his rehabilatation progress. Shipp has been participating in 2 on 2 drills and has been practicing for up to 45 minutes. Howland still has him slated to play in his first game this year against Wagner on Dec. 21., in order to give Shipp some game experience prior to the start of the Pac-10 season.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Kyle Singler Still Considering UCLA

By Bruin Basketball Report

High school forward Kyle Singler (Jr, 6'8), who plays for South Medford in Oregon and is a top ranked player in the recruiting class of 2007, is considering Westwood.

Below is an article about Singler's interest in playing at UCLA and a couple of local area newspapers articles on Singler's style of play this season:

"My top schools are Duke, Kansas, Arizona, UCLA and Oregon," said Singler, the No. 4 ranked prospect in the class of 2007. "There are a couple schools that I like the best right now, but for different reasons. So it is hard to say who my favorite is." One of those favorites is a storied program from the ACC, the other a storied program in the Pac-10.

"The thing about Kyle," said Murphy, "Kyle is not about scoring a lot of points. Kyle’s just about playing the game, playing it hard and playing it well, and that’s what he did. There’s no question in my mind he gets just as much pleasure off a pass as he does a basket." Oregon Mail Tribune

Singler, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, is being hailed as one of the nation's top prep recruits, drawing the attention of Oregon coach Ernie Kent and Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski on Friday. "It's just a pleasure to have them come all the way out here to watch me," said Singler, listed by as the nation's No. 4 recruit for the class of 2007. "I just want to play hard and play my game and get a win." The Register-Guard


Michigan gets ready for UCLA

Last season, when the Michigan men’s basketball team traveled to Pauley Pavilion, it came up just short, falling 80-79 to an upstart UCLA team.

Though Michigan took a late six-point lead, the Bruins stormed back in the final four minutes and gained control of the game. Without its injured leader, Michigan couldn’t maintain the intensity needed to finish strong.

The Wolverines also stand on the cusp of a top-25 ranking. In the Associated Press poll that came out yesterday, Michigan received 115 votes — the most of any teams not ranked in the top 25. Michigan last made a top-25 appearance during the 1996-97 season, reaching its highest spot at 20.

“It’s going to be a big game for us,” Abram said. “It’s an ESPN game. Dicky V’s coming to town. I haven’t seen him, and I’m excited about that. We’re going to be excited to come out there and perform in front of our fans.” Michigan Daily

Monday, December 12, 2005

UCLA Moves Up to No. 14 in ESPN/USA and AP

By Bruin Basketball Report

After a convincing 67-56 victory over a solid Nevada Wolf Pack team at the Wooden Classic on Saturday, the Bruins have moved up to No. 14 in the new ESPN/USA poll.

Nevada actually gained a spot up to No.21 in the ranking - they were No.22 in the poll previous week. Nevada was No.17 ranked on the AP poll last week.

Only two Pac-10 teams remain in the top 25 ranking - as the Arizona Wildcats dropped out for the first time this year, while the Washington Huskies moved up to No. 10.

The Bruins next opponent, the undefeated Michigan Wolverines, are on the outer edge of the poll at No.26 but they moved up dramatically since the previous week earning 58 votes versus only 14 votes last week.

In addition Michigan is ranked No.11 in the RPI ranking while UCLA is ranked No. 31.

Much will be at stake next week at Ann Arbor - as the Bruins go for another win over a quality opponent, while the Wolverines will be extra motivated themselves for a win over a ranked opponent to move into the Top 25 rankings next week.

(edited @ 12:25PM) UCLA has moved up to No.14 in the new AP poll. Michigan also moved up strongly - looking in from the outside at No. 26.

Preview of the UCLA vs. Michigan game to follow later this week.


Forward Shows He Has the Wright Stuff

"Right now, I'm really excited about Ryan Wright," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We just beat a nationally ranked team with him playing 33 minutes and doing a solid job."

"Defense is our focus," Wright said. "It always comes first. No matter how bad your offense is going, if you shut down your opponent, you're going to win every game. You've got to focus on just shutting down the opponent." Daily Bruin

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Catching Up With Richard Washington ('73-'76)

Richard Washington was a key member of John Wooden's last UCLA championship team in 1975 and the tournament MVP .

After his junior year at UCLA, Washington became the first Bruin to ever declare hardship and enter the NBA draft as an underclassman.

Washington averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game at UCLA. He is No 31 on the all-time UCLA scoring list.

By Kerry Eggers
Writer, Portland Tribune
Originally published 12/9/05 in the Portland Tribune
(Reprinted with permission)

At 50, Richard Washington still looks like the athlete he was three decades ago at Benson High. Though he weighs maybe 65 more pounds than the 235 he carried during his six-year NBA career, the 6-11 former Tech star carries them well.

“I should work out more than I do,” says Washington, whose 1971 team was inducted last week into the Benson athletic Hall of Fame. “But my knees are bad. I can’t really run.”

Oh, how Washington could run in his days with Dick Gray’s Techmen — or, as they called them in those days, the Engineers.

An agile big man, Washington was a three-time all-state and first-team all-tournament selection. He led Benson to state championships in 1971 and 1973.

“Richard was athletic, and he could get up and down the court for a big guy,” says Leon McKenzie, the Benson track and field coach who played with Washington as a guard on the ’71 team.

“A finesse player,” says Gray, who lists Washington and A.C. Green as the best players he coached over a storied 38-year career. “Richard could pass, dribble and shoot, which is something not a lot of big men could do in those days.”

Washington had a stellar career at UCLA, earning first-team All-American honors as a junior in 1975-76. In his three seasons at Westwood, the Bruins went 26-4, 28-3 and 28-4, and won three Pac-8 championships, made three Final Fours and seized the NCAA title in 1975. That year, Washington was named most valuable player of the Final Four.

When he became the first UCLA player to declare hardship and enter the NBA draft early, taken by Kansas City as the third pick of the 1976 draft, the world seemed his oyster.

Six years later, at age 26, he was out of both the NBA and basketball for good.

Injuries played their part, but Washington acknowledges that a lack of desire had its role in his premature retirement from the game.

“I wasn’t real satisfied with my NBA career,” Washington says. “I spent most of my basketball life being kind of a naive person, not really knowing how seriously other people took it. In the pros, basketball stopped being fun for me.”

Washington moved to Milwaukie in 1982, shortly after his last NBA appearance with Cleveland. He and his wife, Leiko, have raised two daughters.

After his NBA career, “I was fairly sure I didn’t want to do anything in basketball,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I could keep competing without a love of the game. That’s what made me want to get out there and work out when there was nobody else around.”

Building a new career

Washington began working with a friend in the remodeling business. Twelve years ago, he founded Richard Washington Construction.

“One of the reasons I went to Benson was because when I was young, I was doing one of two things — playing basketball or at a construction site, watching workers build houses,” he says. “I’m a general contractor now, so I sub(contract) everything out. I enjoy it. Business is good. I’ve even gotten some jobs because I used to play basketball and people recognize my name.”

Who could forget Washington?

“In my mind, Richard is the greatest prep player ever in the state of Oregon,” says Craig Conway, a former teammate who now is a middle-school teacher in Springfield. “What was unique about Richard was he was quick, he could shoot, he had such a great touch, but he wanted to include everybody, too.

“He always had a great sense of humor. He didn’t take himself too seriously. He’d smile and keep us loosened up. I always appreciated his kindness, his personality, his respect for others and his unselfishness as a player. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself.”

That was hard to do. Washington was always the biggest kid in his class, and beginning in third grade at Boise Elementary in North Portland, basketball was his thing.

“At recess, you’d go check out the footballs at the noon hour,” he says. “I was always late, so I got stuck with the basketball. And I learned to love it. I was pretty good right off the bat.”

Boyhood pal George Mayes, later a starter on the great teams at Benson, recalls their formative years growing up on North Cook Street.

“We used to drag Richard out to play basketball with us,” Mayes recalls. “At first, his sister used to beat him up on the basketball court. But we started playing every day, and he started coming into his own about his freshman year. He had the quickness and agility and an inside-outside game.

“I wish he’d played more inside, but he had that outside shot.”

Almost a General

Washington nearly wound up at Grant.

“I wanted to go to Benson because it was an all-boys school,” he says. “I didn’t like girls at the time. But my original application got refused.”

Washington was scheduled to attend Grant. But he accompanied Mayes to a preseason Benson football practice before his freshman year, and coach Mike Lopez spied him.

“He took me down to the office, and then next thing I knew, I was going to Benson,” Washington says.

As a 6-5 freshman, Washington was a starter for Gray. By the time he was a 6-9 sophomore, he was a dominant player. If not for an upset by Sunset in the state quarterfinals his junior season, Tech might have won three straight state titles. Gray liked to run and gun, and Washington had the luxury of some outstanding teammates, such as Mayes, Rickey Lee, Gary Gray (the coach’s son) and Mark Hoisington.

“Dick was great to play for,” Washington says. “He made the game fun, which it should be for kids at that age. All of us can look back on it with a lot of fond memories. We all looked forward to basketball practice.

“There were a lot of good players in the PIL at that time, guys like Ray Leary, Charles Channel, Carl Bird, Tony Hopson, June Jones, Artie Wilson, Tim Stambaugh and Eddie Lincoln. It was a time when there was a lot of good basketball in the city.”

Gray noted a change in attitude in Washington midway through his high school career.

“It was great as a freshman and sophomore, but he was not quite as devoted the next couple of years,” Gray says. “He discovered females. He didn’t have quite the same desire, but we were winning by 20, 30 points most games, so he didn’t have to. I told him, ‘OK, you have to be ready for the big games,’ maybe four or five times each year. And he was.”

Washington was an all-around athlete, a hurdler in track and good enough as a defensive end-receiver to be the MVP on the Benson football squad his junior year before he hung up the cleats.

“At that point, everybody knew he was going to be a great hooper,” McKenzie says. “We kept hearing opponents say, ‘Let’s take his knees out.’ We thought it was better he step out away from football as a senior. He wasn’t going to play college football.”

Weather and John Wooden

Washington could have played basketball at any college in the country. He chose UCLA and the legendary John Wooden.

“I wanted to get out of state, just for a change, to experience something new,” he says. “The other school I thought seriously about was Hawaii. I visited there as a sophomore and I loved the weather, the tropical feel of it. I ended up at UCLA because people said (the Bruins) could offer all the same things, but they also had John Wooden and the tradition.

“Funny, because I wasn’t really aware of UCLA’s legacy. I was not a great student of the game. I was a kid who lived for the moment.”

Washington, who played alongside senior Bill Walton as a freshman at UCLA, was a member of Wooden’s final two teams in Westwood.

Playing for Wooden “was kind of surreal,” Washington says. “I didn’t fully appreciate it until many years after. It was a good situation. There was so much talent there. Coach Wooden commanded so much respect, the players listened to every word he said. You see what can happen if you put all the right forces together.”

Washington got off to a nice start in the NBA, averaging 13.0 points and 8.5 rebounds as a rookie and 12.8 points and 8.4 boards the next season under Kansas City coach Phil Johnson.

“The one thing Richard could do immediately was offensive rebound,” says Johnson, now an assistant with the Utah Jazz. “That was his strong point. That’s what he helped us with when he first came.”

Things went downhill his third season. Washington broke his foot and played only 18 games.

“After that, Richard was never the same player,” says Billy McKinney, Washington’s teammate his third season with the Kings. “One of the things people always wondered about him was his toughness. Richard was always kind of a laid-back player. Sometimes people misread that as a lack of toughness.

“But he was such a skilled player. At 6-11, he could do so many things. The guys used to always ride him about that. Guys like Sam Lacey, a great team leader, got on him pretty good, but Richard didn’t respond to that too well. That’s probably why his career was short.

“He was an incredible talent. Some of the people around him were frustrated because they understood what he could do. He was a great guy, but he didn’t live up to everybody’s expectations.”

Says Johnson: “As a person, Richard was fine, but he didn’t work as hard as he probably should have. We knew he had talent; we just expected him to play harder.”

Washington was traded to Milwaukee, then to Dallas, then to Cleveland. Along the way, he injured both knees, which robbed him of his mobility and, ultimately, his desire to continue playing.

(alumni tracker)
(photo credit: AP)