Washington: Dunbar role model, player

January 07, 1991|By Dave Glassman | Dave Glassman,Special to The Evening Sun

He could, like a lot of athletes would, have just forgotten the basketball season this year. Running up and down a hardwood court with a stress fracture in his foot, even with doctor's permission, can't be pleasant. And, after all, having made an oral commitment to Maryland's football program, his athletic future and college education are all but assured.

But Dunbar senior Kevin Washington is willing to play with a little pain and postpone the surgery on his foot until the end of the season. He's willing to forget that he is a football star -- the area's third leading receiver this year with 45 catches for 678 yards -- to be a role player on the talented, top-ranked Poets basketball team (11-1).

"Basketball teams don't win games without kids like Kevin," said Dunbar coach Pete Pompey. "Blue-collar kids who rebound and play tough defense. He was our superstar in football; our team was built around him . . . He comes to basketball and he's not the superstar anymore. That doesn't bother him. He's going to step in and do the job that has to be done."

"It's a change I have to adapt to," said Washington, 6 feet 4 and 212 pounds. "I love playing basketball just as much as football. In basketball, I motivate myself with defense."

Not that he lacks talent, mind you. The Poets' starting power forward is averaging about 10 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, Pompey said. "He has an uncanny ability," Pompey said, "to know where the ball is going to be in rebounding. Offensively, he contributes."

Last May 1 in a pickup game, Washington broke the fifth metatarsal bone on the outside of his right foot. He missed summer basketball while it healed. Then, during a preseason football scrimmage, it broke again in the same place. His doctor gave him two options: place the foot in a cast and miss the football season, or wear a "fracture brace" that would alleviate 90 percent of the pain and allow him to play. He's still wearing the brace and will have an operation on the foot at the end of basketball season.

"He's played in pain," said Pompey. "Not many kids have that kind of fortitude."

Washington, who was 4 when his father died and has lived with his grandparents ever since, started playing basketball when he was 10 and stood 5 feet 7. When, in eighth grade, he had to choose a high school, his grandfather, impressed by the recent NBA draft of Dunbar grads, urged him to go there, too. It has worked out well.

With a 3.3 average Washington has been an honor student since his arrival, and is Dunbar's Scholar-Athlete nominee. "I love accounting. That's what I want to major in. It's a challenge . . . I'd like to be a CPA so I have something to fall back on."

Like any clever accountant, this summer Washington turned a debit, his broken foot, into an asset. Unable to play ball, he became the youngest counselor, at 16, at Camp Greentop, a summer camp for the handicapped in Western Maryland.

"I never thought working with the handicapped would be such a great experience," he said. "It taught me a lot about myself as a person. At the end of the sessions it brought tears to my eyes to see them go . . . It's rewarding. I'd like to give a lot to those who are disabled." He was asked to come back next year.

Not surprisingly, Washington also gets a kick from seeing athletes without handicaps maximizing their considerable abilities, too. "I love to see everyone else playing at the top of their game. Just seeing a lot of talented guys come together and work together, playing basketball together as a family."

A quiet leader, captain of the football team and co-captain in basketball, Washington would seem to be an ideal example for his younger teammates. But Pompey thinks it goes further than that.

"Any young kid would look at Kevin," he said. "He's a great role model."

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