Junior college All-American has a knack for rebounding and a reason to leave everything on the floor.
Aug. 19, 2010
|| Getting to Know Archive
NORMAN, Okla. -- College coaches love to mentor student-athletes who are mature, unselfish and driven. Fortunately for OU men's basketball coach Jeff Capel, those characteristics help describe newcomer C.J. Washington.
A 6-7 forward, Washington was a first-team junior college All-American last year for a Connors State squad that advanced to the eight-team national tournament. He averaged 19.3 points and a school-record 13.0 rebounds per game while recording 25 double-doubles in his 32 games.
As a high schooler in his native Stringtown, Okla., Washington never thought he'd have the chance to play at OU. But with that opportunity now squarely in front of him, he knows he needs to make the most of it.
Adding to his motivation is the fact that he has a 3-year-old son. Washington knows he shoulders a responsibility greater than most guys his age do, and he fully understands that his OU scholarship has the chance to result in a happy and successful future for his family.
We caught up with Washington this week in the OU practice gym to learn more about his background and what he's like on the court. A Q&A follows below and a separate five-minute video interview is available in the player above.
Q: Talk about your journey to OU. What was junior college like?
A: "Out of high school, I never really thought about going Division I. I mean everyone thinks about it, but I just didn't see myself (going that route). In high school, I never took the ACT. I just figured I was going to junior college.
"My cousin was at Cowley County (Community College in Kansas), so I thought that was where I was going to go. They had a good program and I liked the coach a lot. But they've got a rule in Kansas where only six out-of-state players can be active on a roster, and the coach brought six with him from his previous school. So I redshirted that year. I was four hours from home and my son had just been born. I stayed there for a semester, but it was just too far away from my son. So at Christmas, I moved to Connors State (Junior College in Warner, Okla.) and I sat out the rest of that season.
"My freshman year, I was just trying to come in and play. I didn't really have a mindset of being a scorer or a leader on the team or anything. We had another guy who took that role. So I just got my points and rebounds where I could, helped the team out. We made it to the junior college final four. The day after the season ended, my assistant coach at Connors told me that the next year I was going to be the man, a junior college All-American, player of the year.
"So my sophomore year I came back and I knew I had to be a leader. I tried to do everything right, was on time for everything and made sure I made my times. In practice, I wasn't really sure I was going to be that good. I thought it might be another role-playing year.
"I broke my nose in the first game of the season and I missed the next game. I played one game with a mask and then I sat out two more games to get my nose reset. I played the rest of the semester with that mask on, and I guess I felt I had to play harder and do a little more with it on. Kind of like if you're sick you're going to play harder. And that's what I did. I had a scorer's mentality. I figured if somebody needed to score it was going to be me. If we needed a rebound I was going to get it. After Christmas, I didn't have my mask but I stuck with my mentality."
Q: Who else recruited you out of junior college?
A: "Oral Roberts and Murray State were the main two, and an assistant coach from Wright State talked to me after the (junior college) national tournament. If I didn't end up at OU, I probably would have gone to Oral Roberts. I really liked them. I liked Murray a lot, too, but it's nine hours from home and I couldn't be that far from my son. Right before my visit to Murray, (Connors State head) Coach (Bill) Muse stopped me and told me not to sign any papers or anything 'because OU called about you today.' I was like, 'Man, stop playing with me.' He said, 'No, I'm serious.' So I had that in my mind, that if OU offered me that's where I was going."
Q: What was going through your head when OU offered you a scholarship?
A: "Coach Capel actually called and offered on my birthday. They say your best birthday is supposed to match the day you were born. I believe it now. I was born on April 21 and I got the offer on my 21st birthday. I woke up and saw I missed a call from a 405 number and I was like, 'I wonder who that was.' I listened to the voicemail and just started smiling. I kept smiling the rest of the day. I told everyone on my team and they were all excited for me."
Q: When you were a kid growing up in Stringtown, were you an OU fan?
A: "Yeah, I was an OU fan. I watched them more in football than in basketball, but when Blake (Griffin) was here I watched them a lot. I came up here for team camps and stuff like that. I remember I'd be like, 'I'd love to play here. But it's never going to happen.' Then last night I said to myself, 'You're actually here. God's given you this chance and you've got to take advantage of it.'"
Q: How did you learn your rebounding skills?
A: "Rebounding has always come natural to me. I mean, I learned to rebound when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school when my dad would teach me how to throw an (alley) oop to myself. (I'd) throw the ball up, catch it off the rim and do put-back dunks and stuff like that. He would show me angles the ball was likely to come off the rim. Like if the shot is from the right side, most of the time the ball will come off the left side. So I look at the ball, see where I think it's going to come off and go get it."
Q: Did you have any time to work on anything basketball related this summer?
A: "I was the only new player here in May. I'd come in like I do now and get up 500 shots a night. I was running sprints and suicides to try to get in shape. After that, when I wasn't in a workout or a class, occasionally I'd come in and shoot. But I had classes and I had essays due every day. I was lifting in the morning and then I'd come back if we played pickup games in the afternoon or for Pilates or kick boxing. It was weights and pick up games almost every day.
"I've also had lots and lots of peanut butter sandwiches. And milk. I'm trying to put on weight. I gained about nine pounds in June."
Q: What individual goals have you set for yourself for your first season at the Division I level?
A: "Come in and play hard. They say it's a faster-paced game (at this level). From what I can tell, basketball is basketball. I told (assistant) Coach (Dionne) Phelps the other day that I'm not too worried about offense. Everyone has an off night offensively. Kobe's had them, Jordan's had them. But defense, playing hard and rebounding can be there every night. If I can come in and play hard, play defense hard and rebound hard every night, that's going to help the team. That's what I'm here for. It's not just me getting mine. I don't care about that."
Q: Coach Capel has said you're a guy who can do the 'dirty work.' Does that suit you?
A: "I like making hustle plays. That's me. I like diving on the floor for balls, blocking shots, rebounding. Rebounding is my main thing. There were countless games last year when we needed a rebound. I LOVE offensive rebounding off of free throws. I learned from a teammate my freshman year. He was so fast off the block. He'd just get in front of everyone and get rebounds. So now I'm the same way. As soon as the ball leaves the shooter's hand, I get low, get in the lane and come up and get it. I just love rebounding."
Q: What are some of the things you admire about Coach Capel and his staff?
A: "Coach Capel was coaching the USA Team part of June and July. The day he came back was the day I was going home, so I didn't get to see him much this summer. Coach Phelps, Coach (Bryan) Goodman and Coach (Ben) Betts, I talked to them a lot and really like them. I know if I need anything, they're going to be able to help me out. One time I wanted to come in and shoot and Coach Goodman stopped his golf game to come over and let me in the gym. I just know they're going to be there for me. Yo-Yo (Director of Student Athlete Performance Jozsef Szendrei) too. I like Yo-Yo. He likes to go hard at everything and I do too. If you're not trying to get better every day, what are you doing here?"
Q: What aspect of your game needs the most improvement?
A: "Defense. Defense and ball handling. I need to learn how to move my feet quicker and get down and be able to defend guards if need be. I know this is a whole new level and I'm going to have to be able to guard. I'm going to have to get bigger and stronger. I like to play physical and that's why I need to get bigger."
Q: What's it like to go to school and play basketball while also being a father?
A: "Difficult. It's difficult being away from my son -- that's the main thing. But I know what I'm doing is for him. I'm doing it to get an education so I can support us in the future. He's going to see that one day, I hope.
"It's made me grow up a lot. I'm not into some stuff that some players my age might be, like going out partying. I don't care about that at all. I was talking to a guy the other day here who's from back where I'm from, and he said he was impressed with my maturity. He said most guys don't have my mindset that I have about getting educated. OU's using me for basketball and I'm using them for an education. I'm not saying I'm not going to go hard (on the court), because I am. But education is above all for me so I can support my family when I graduate.
"It makes me go harder to know I'm playing for something. Some guys are playing for themselves. I'm playing for me, my son and our future."
Q: Have you decided on a major yet?
A: "I'm in multidisciplinary studies because it will allow me to take the classes I need to become a college assistant coach. After I graduate I want to be a Division I assistant. I plan to talk to Coach Capel about becoming a grad assistant after I graduate. I love basketball and I really don't know anything else. I think I can help some young guys and teach them some things, about rebounding if nothing else."