Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The Rice team that took the court against Temple on Saturday evening looked very unfamiliar to any Temple fan that watched the teams’ matchup last season. Two of the Houston school’s starters from last season graduated while two others transferred out, leaving senior guard Tamir Johnson as the only Rice Owl with any significant in-game experience.
One of the new Owl faces who took the court at the Liacouras Center as a member of the visiting team was actually not so new to this town. Freshman guard Keith Washington, a Frankford High graduate, played 26 minutes off the bench, scoring 12 points and picking up two steals in his first collegiate game back home.
“It wasn’t even playing in front of the crowd,” he told CoBL afterwards. “Every game I just wanna play for my team, I just wanna win, so whatever it takes for my team to win–if it’s scoring, chasing someone off the screen, being a defender.”
Washington now has hit double figures in two of his Owls’ first three games after scoring 10 points in 18 minutes in a 75-63 win over D-II St. Edwards on Wednesday; he also chipped in five rebounds and three assists.
In his senior season at Frankford HS back in 2010-11, the 6-1 Washington averaged 18.8 points per game for a 20-6 Pioneers squad and was named Public League MVP for his efforts; he spent a year at Mont Claire Academy out in Phoenixville before heading off to college.
This summer, Washington played for the Friends of Isaiah Thomas team in the Chosen League, starring for the squad of recent high school grads when he wasn’t taking part in summer workouts down in Houston. In his most memorable performance of the summer, he scored 22 points–all in the second half–to help Isaiah Thomas past a star-studded squad that included Central Florida’s Daiquan Walker and current high-major prospect/Imhotep Charter senior Brandon Austin.
“There’s enough scoring on the team that I don’t have to score, I just can play D,” Washington told us after helping his team to the league finals. “But we needed some scoring in the second half so I just turned it up.”
Expectations are very low for Rice due to the loss of a total of six players from last year’s squad in transfers alone, but for the 6-1 guard from North Philadelphia, that just makes his freshman season that much more enjoyable.
“It’s great, people don’t expect us to win, so we just come out with a chip on our shoulder every time we come to play,” he said. “We don’t want to disappoint each other, we work so hard and every game we’re looking to make forward progression.”
Though the vast majority of the 6,836 in attendance were Temple fans, Washington certainly had his own cheering section; after the game, he was surrounded by dozens of family and friends all trying to get a hug and a picture before the team had to head to the buses.
“Well, I got to see my family,” he said when asked about getting to play in his hometown. “It’s always a good time when you see family.”
Calling his team his “new family,” it’s clear that Washington is fitting in well in a group that’s still working on finding its chemistry under a very experienced coach in Ben Braun, who has over 600 wins in his D-I career.
“The biggest adjustment is, at Rice, the workload,” he said, “but you come to appreciate it. At some schools the workload is not as heavy, but Rice is a top academic school, so even if basketball doesn’t work out you know your education is gonna hold weight.
Washington, who graduated third in his class at Frankford, told CoBL that he was considering a double-major in psychology and sports management, with plans to be a psychologist and sports agent after his basketball-playing days are done.
For now, he’s got a bright future ahead of him at Rice, though he knows there are a few things he still has to work on: “Communication, being a defensive stopper, and setting my teammates up.”