Williamsport’s Washington has work ethic to match talent

Isaiah Washington cannot validate the story, but his mother says the first word he spoke was basketball.

It makes perfect sense too. Washington literally was born with basketball in his blood. His father Sam was a 1,000-point scorer and multiple district champion at Williamsport. His older brother Jeremiah played on the 1999 Williamsport state champion. Young Isaiah sat in the stands during that run, not only watching Jeremiah make history, but also his cousins Sam and David Fatherly.

He might not have been born with a basketball, but Washington was born with a passion. It is his time to shine now at Williamsport and all those who watch him see that passion every time he plays.

“I just grew up around it and always watched my brother and cousins play so I’ve grown to love it and enjoy playing,” Washington said. “I have good athletic genes. I’m blessed for sure.”

Make no mistake, though, Washington is where he is today because of more than genes. The junior guard has become one of the state’s premier players the old fashioned way. Washington can make the flashy plays and throw down highlight-reel dunks but he is a lunch-pail player who has worked to make himself a Division I recruit and Williamsport a two-time defending District 2-4 Class AAAA champion.

Washington will play at Penn State in two years, but he is a Millionaire now and will try helping his team capture its first state championship since 1999. That quest begins Saturday at Montoursville against Bethlehem Liberty.

“He understands there is only one way to achieve the ultimate goal and that’s sacrifice and work,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “He has a tremendous work ethic and he definitely makes a ton of sacrifices. Rather than doing a lot of fun things in the summer, he’s always in the gym and in the weight room or running hills on his own when there are no scheduled workouts. He’s always doing something extra to get that extra edge.”

Washington is averaging 15.8 points per game and also is among team leaders in assists, steals and rebounds. Stats only tell part of the story, though. Washington also has emerged as a solid leader for a team that has won 14 straight and that has built off last year’s strong finish. Williamsport frequently has shined in pressure moments and Washington is a big reason why.

This is the second straight year that Washington has elevated his play in the postseason. A year ago, Washington splashed onto the state radar with five straight scintillating playoff performances that helped Williamsport capture the district title as a No. 4 seed and come within one second of reaching the state quarterfinals.

He did it again in districts the past two weeks, scoring 18 points against both Wyoming Valley West and Scranton while playing relentless defense as Williamsport (23-2) rallied to win both games.

“This is just when I’m focused the most on basketball, faith and schoolwork. I lock in during playoffs,” Washington said. “This is the best time of the year for me. College basketball is heating up, you’re in the state playoffs and it’s a great time of the year. Everything great happens in basketball at this time of the year and it’s great to be part of it.”

Defense might be the most underrated aspect of Washington’s performances, but it is every bit as impressive as his offense. Scranton point guard Karlon Quiller was shredding Williamsport in the district final, scoring 21 first-half points. Taylor put Washington on him in the second half and he immediately ceased being a factor.

Quiller scored only five second-half points against Washington and was held scoreless in the fourth quarter when Williamsport turned a 3-point deficit into a 10-point win. When the Millionaires needed him most, Washington delivered big on both ends.

“We know that Isaiah is a fighter. He’s not going to back down,” Williamsport center Chris Kinley said. “With his athletic ability and his length he’s tough. That is something Isaiah does well. I’m really proud of him stepping up and accepting the challenge.”

Washington loves challenges. Those are what drives him on the court and in the classroom where he is one of Williamsport’s top students. His family set the standard, but now Washington is trying to raise the bar even higher. In addition to his father, brother and cousins leaving their marks, Washington’s sister Yolanda is a Williamsport track legend, winning five state championships.

Now Washington wants one of his own. That is a brutally tough task, but that is what Washington likes most about it. That is precisely why he runs up Millionaire Drive so often on those hot summer days. That is why he is sweating it out in the gym and the weight room daily while many of his friends might be lounging on the beach.

Nothing great ever comes easy. Washington knows that. This is his time now but only because he made it his time when nobody else was looking.

“Some kids get nervous or tighten up, but he embraces the moment. He put in a lot of work and he knows what does during the offseason leads to what he does in the season,” Taylor said. “Isaiah is one of those players who understands there is no pressure if you are prepared and he is definitely prepared for when his best is needed.”

He has the genes, but Washington has made himself into a terrific basketball player. And the family tradition continues growing strong.