Daily Egyptian

Former starter embracing leadership role on bench

By Thomas Donley, @tdonleyDE

Whether it’s a captain of professional sports team, or manager of fast-food burger joint, no one likes having his or her role diminished. One Saluki women’s basketball player, though, is making the most out of decreased playing time and a little less limelight.

Senior forward Azia Washington, who was once a top scorer for the Salukis, has been limited in her ability to contribute to the women’s basketball team on the floor this season.

Recovery from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery and worn cartilage in her knees have kept Washington, a regular starter her entire career until this season, from being able to play for extended periods of time. 

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So she has found other ways to contribute.

“I find it really important to educate the other girls at my position who are playing,” Washington said. “And I get to act crazy on the bench now. I try to be a voice, or a junior coach, if that’s what you want to call it. I want to be helpful regardless.”

Coach Cindy Stein said Washington started to take on that role in an 87-77 win at Drake on Jan. 1 — a game she did not play in.

“At the Drake game, she basically was another coach on the bench,” Stein said. “During timeouts, she would get to our kids first while we as coaches were still huddling and tell them what they needed to do. She did it at halftime, too. She’s been a great leader and doing everything she can to help the team.”

Washington entered the season averaging 24.6 minutes per game for her career. This season, she has averaged 8.7 minutes per contest. 

She played 10 minutes and scored five points in Saturday’s 74-56 win against Evansville. Her 10 minutes were her most since Dec. 22, when she played 16 minutes in an 87-72 win at Southeast Missouri State. Her five points were her most since she scored five in a 102-69 win against Morehead State on Dec. 12.

Last season, Washington averaged career highs with 10.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. This season, those numbers have dropped to 2.9 points and 2.5 rebounds per contest.

“I’d definitely be lying if I said that it’s not hard,” Washington said. “There are some days where I get hard on myself. It’s hard for me to understand that I’m not playing because I’m hurt. I’m very hard on myself, so when I do get in the games, I put so much pressure on myself in that little bit of time.”

Washington’s teammates have taken it upon themselves to help her through her recovery.

“It is hard [watching her struggle], but we’ve been doing a good job of keeping her up,” junior point guard Rishonda Napier said. “She’s also doing a great job. She’s started talking to us, telling us what she sees when she’s not in the game and just being kind of another coach out there.”

This season, Washington has taken breaks from team drills in practice and pregame warmups to spend time on a stationary bicycle to keep loose. Stein said Washington has progressed physically as the season has gone on.

“She’s obviously limited physically, but she’s getting better and better,” Stein said. “I think depending on the matchups, you’re probably going to see her play more.”

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3307

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