High-Flying Washington Is Leaving Behind a Hokie Highlight Reel

Deron Washington's Virginia Tech career has been filled with acrobatic dunks and clutch plays that have made the rounds on television and the Internet.
Deron Washington's Virginia Tech career has been filled with acrobatic dunks and clutch plays that have made the rounds on television and the Internet. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 3 -- Deron Washington moved from Green Bay, Wis., to Maryland at age 17, not even one year removed from his first slam dunk. When he arrived, he quickly realized something: "Everybody could jump," he said.

He vowed he wouldn't be left behind. Washington found himself one day playing pickup against current Georgetown forward Patrick Ewing Jr. He dribbled down the lane, soared and slammed over Ewing, who is now a good friend.

"Something from there made me just want to keep on dunking," Washington said.

Washington spent the next four years at Virginia Tech compiling perhaps college basketball's most indelible highlight reel. During his career, his teammates and Coach Seth Greenberg put the Hokies on the college basketball map. Washington put them on YouTube. A search for "Deron Washington" on the Web site returns 59 videos, two of which have been viewed more than 94,000 times.

On Tuesday, barring any National Invitation Tournament games, Washington will play his final game at Cassell Coliseum. He'll leave behind a unique footprint. Some fans will remember him as a fashion plate. He wore pony-tailed dreadlocks (which fellow Hokies senior Marcus Travis sheared into a mohawk this season), knee-high socks, knee braces and a headband. "I just like to be different, have my own style," Washington said.

Opponents will remember him as a nuisance. He's gone through three pairs of those knee braces, and his current set is riddled with about a dozen holes. Student sections from opposing schools often deride him for flopping; he takes it as a compliment.

Others will remember his clutch shots. Last year against Illinois, in Virginia Tech's first NCAA tournament game in 11 years, Washington banked in -- by mistake -- the game-winning jumper with 46 seconds remaining. This season, asserting himself as a team leader, he demanded the ball and made an acrobatic layup as overtime expired at Virginia. It is his most cherished play. "My first buzzer beater," he said.

Mostly, though, Washington will be remembered for his high-flying moments.

Tyrelle Blair of Boston College found himself on the wrong end of a Washington slam twice last season, the first at BC on Feb. 3.

"That's [one of the] top three dunks of my career," Washington said. "I was setting a screen for Zabian Dowdell, and he was cutting out. They were supposed to switch. My man went to him, and the other guy chased him. I was able to slip to the basket and get a wide open lane. Jamon Gordon ended up hitting me. I just tried to go to the basket strong and get the dunk. I happened to get up higher than Blair did and just dunked on him."

Washington and Blair met again 18 days later in Blacksburg. Washington received the ball on a fast break, bolted down the lane and saw Blair standing under the basket. Blair braced his knees. He cocked his arms. Then he simply stood still and ducked out of the way.

"I think he wanted to jump," Washington said. "Then he was like, 'Man, he's coming full speed. I know when I jumped with him he dunked on me last time.' Shot blockers don't forget when people dunk on them. They know who to jump with and who not to jump with. It ended up being a pretty nice dunk."

Washington's favorite dunk came Jan. 19 this season at Georgia Tech against Gani Lawal, a 6-8 forward.

"I hop-stepped and just took off from outside the paint," Washington said. "I saw [Lawal] try to jump, and I just kept on going up. He was going on down while I dunked it, and I got the dunk and the and-one. My finger hit the rim, but he hit me and I knew how to throw it in to get the dunk. I would do that in practice in case that situation came up, so I'd know how to throw it in the rim. Kevin Garnett dunked on somebody like that."

On Jan. 6 last year, Washington forged the lasting image of what still may be Greenberg's signature win. He hurdled over Duke point guard Greg Paulus for a remarkable layup, a play that still follows both players.

"Markus Sailes got the steal," Washington said. "As soon as I see somebody grab the ball, I usually just take off and start running. He passed to me, and I saw Paulus step up and try to take a charge. I didn't think he was going to take the charge, to be honest. I just took off. When it happened, I was like, 'Hmm. I'm over him. Might as well finish the layup.' I wanted to dunk it. He got in the way. I slowed it down a little bit. I just laid it up. It was all instinct."

Photos circulated on the Internet of Washington in mid-flight, Paulus standing helplessly between his legs. The clip landed on YouTube almost instantly, accompanied by breathless broadcasters Mike Patrick and Len Elmore. It's been watched more than 95,000 times.

Patrick sounded as if he needed to see the replay to validate what he had seen with his own eyes. "I don't know if I've ever seen anything quite like it," he said, unwittingly summarizing Washington's career.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company