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April 2, 2012The ball is rolling for Penn State men's basketball head coach Patrick Chambers. Quickly.
Two commitments are set for Chambers' class of 2012, two more are lined up for the class of 2013, and Sunday, the Nittany Lions added another verbal commitment in the form of Williamsport (Pa.) combo guard Isaiah Washington (6-foot-4, 175 pounds).
As a scorer, facilitator, and defender, Washington helped lead his Millionaire teammates to the second round of the PIAA state playoffs this past season, averaging 12 points per game through the regular season then jumping to 15 in the playoffs.
With his final decision made, Washington can now turn his attention to two more years of improvement before enrolling at Penn State in the summer of 2014. We caught up with him Sunday night to talk about the decision, the changing basketball culture at Penn State, and more:
Bauer: Why Penn State and why now?
Washington: Penn State is just the best fit for me and my family academically with what I want to do with my career and everything like that. The academics just are great. Their graduation percentage for athletes is close to 100 percent if not 100 percent. Don't hold me to that, but they graduate athletes, so it's a school that I can go there and play basketball and not worry about not graduating or anything like that. Graduating is important to me. I am a 4.0 student and I have all honors classes with a couple of college classes.
Bauer: Why is that important to you? Some athletes just want to get to the next level, college and then to the pros, and academics really aren't a focus at all. Why is that important for you?
Washington: Just because regardless of how far you get, the basketball is going to stop bouncing one day, so you have to have your education regardless. Of course my goal and my dream is to make it to the NBA one day or play professionally across seas, but you have to have your degree in something. I mean, you really should. It's important. It really is important.
Bauer: Is that what Patrick Chambers sold you on? Maybe moreso than some other schools recruiting you?
Washington: Yeah, he did. Academics isn't every school's high suit. It's not what they want to show you at every school. Penn State did a good job with letting me know how well they do academically, so it worked out.
Bauer: In terms of the timing for this decision, you have a few more years of high school ball and don't need to sign necessarily until 2014. Why did you choose right now to commit?
Washington: Just because it's the perfect fit. If you know where you want to go, which I do, there's no point in playing around with it. It could help with getting other good players here and their recruitment. I just knew. I decided where I wanted to go, it was the best fit for me and my family, and I just decided and know.
Bauer: Speaking of your influence on future players, how much did Brandon Austin and Geno have on you?
Washington: I talked to Geno a little bit, and we text, but physically and verbally we haven't had a whole lot of conversation. But, I'm friends with Brandon Austin. I've seen him at camps and different tournaments and things like that, so if we ever see each other... Even before, like last year at a spring event, when he saw me, he was like, 'Yo, what's up Isaiah?' not knowing that we'd both be committed to the same college. It's good. When I knew Penn State had Brandon Austin, and I'm not that familiar with Geno, but just knowing that they had two good players already there, it helps because you know you're going to have a team around you.
Bauer: That was one of the shortcomings in the past at Penn State was landing a good recruit but not having much around him. Chambers is starting to pull in bunches of high quality recruits. Were you concerned about Penn State's history with basketball at all? It's not Villanova or Syracuse.
Washington: Not at all. Nova, Syracuse, all those higher programs like North Carolina and such, they're like that because a group of guys decided one day that they wanted to go there and change things. We could put Penn State up there just like Louisville or Syracuse and all those high schools are. It really wasn't a concern.
Bauer: Does helping Patrick recruit become an immediate focus for you? Obviously, you guys have a lot of influence on each other.
Washington: Yeah, I mean, it is a focus but it's not necessarily my job to recruit other people because I don't necessarily know what type of players coach wants or what positions. But, of course, if I know that a guy is being recruited by Coach Chambers, when we talk, if I know him or have a relationship with him, I'll definitely do it.
Bauer: Tell me about you as a player. I keep seeing shooting guard but it looks like you handle some point.
Washington: Yeah, the shooting guard label is I guess put upon me by people who don't necessarily know me. I'm a combo guard. I run the point guard. I was a freshman and I ran the point guard for my high school. I played point guard for most of this year. We had a guard that came back from a knee injury, so then I started running the two because I'm a scorer. I can really score the ball, but I can run the one or the two.
Bauer: As a scorer, some guys are pure shooters, some slash and get to the bucket. And, in relation to that, is distributing more your style? What do you prefer and where do you envision yourself?
Washington: Scoring-wise, I am a definite shooter. I led my high school team in threes for the past two years, last year as a freshman and this year. So, I'm definitely a shooter. I am a slasher. I can get to the basket. And, I like the mid-range pull-up. And, facilitating, I always like it. Sometimes it's harder to do on a high school level because you don't always have the right people. But, I don't really have a preference. I'm just a basketball player, and whatever my team needs for us to win is what I'll do. If I need to pass, then I'll pass. If I need to score, I'll score.
Bauer: Your scoring numbers went up as the season went along. Did you start to embrace that?
Washington: Yeah, of course. In the beginning of the season, it was more of a spread out type of thing and toward the end of the season when the tougher games came along, I could really score, so I just did what my team needed me to do. I do enjoy scoring, but I enjoy winning more than anything else.
Bauer: And you guys won this year. Worst to first, basically, right?
Washington: Yeah, I mean, we definitely did a lot better than last year, winning our district. But, second round of the state playoffs was a heartbreaker because I told my guys from the get go last year that we're not going anywhere but states. We brung it in to states after each workout, so winning the state chamionship was my goal this year and we fell short, so next year we still have something to push us.
Bauer: The numbers say 6-foot-3, 175 pounds. Are those right?
Washington: I'm 6-4 in basketball shoes. Weight is right.
Bauer: I'm assuming you're going to fill out more. Are you still growing?
Washington: Yeah, I'm still growing. I'm gaining actually all the time.
Bauer: Are you happy you got it taken care of now, getting the decision out of the way? It just gets worse, right?
Washington: Yeah, even with other schools getting involved and things like that... Like, Syracuse was interested in me a little bit, but they never got to a game or anything like that. It's just the right fit. It's 50 minutes away from my home, so my parents can come to literally every home game. It's just a good fit for me. Coach Chambers is doing good things at Penn State. We're definitely going to turn it around and a Big Ten Championship is soon to come for Penn State.
Bauer: Is it a relief?
Washington: Of course. It's definitely a relief. Now I can just work on getting better every day so when I get to Penn State I can make an impact as soon as possible. Before, you're working hard to do well in front of college coaches at live events, but now the only thing you have to really worry about is getting better, not running everywhere and this and that.
Bauer: That's gotta be such a distraction, trying to look good for scouts in the room.
Washington: I mean, for me it never is because you just play. As a basketball player, if you're thinking, you're not playing. So, you play your game and if someone likes you, someone likes you. You can't really dwell on what college coaches are thinking or what they want to see. Even shooters, you can't think about the shot or you won't make it. It's muscle memory and things like that, that's how you have to play.
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