The first time Isaiah Washington checked into the game at Monday’s Twin Cities Pro Am, the couple of hundred fans in the crowd at DeLaSalle High School gave him resounding applause.
That was before the highly touted Gophers incoming freshman even gave them a glimpse of why he’s the New York Mr. Basketball and a social media star as the co-founder of the Jelly Fam club.
It took only his first offensive possession for the “oohs and aahs” to come as the 6-1 Harlem native had his defender dancing to keep up with his flashy ball-handling and spin moves.
A few minutes into the second quarter, Washington cut to the lane and finished with one of his trademark “Jelly” finger rolls, which started his online fame last year. Through three quarters, he already had scored all of his 25 points, which included a 360-degree layup, a few three-pointers and a transition dunk.
Gophers fans definitely got what they wanted to see in Washington’s Twin Cities debut. The top incoming recruit for Richard Pitino could be an impact reserve for a 24-win Minnesota team that returns All-Big Ten senior point guard Nate Mason.
“I didn’t expect a crowd like this for the first game, but it helped to have all of the Gophers players, especially Isaiah,” said Jamar Diggs, Twin Cities Pro Am founder and former DeLaSalle standout. “Hopefully, we can make it like this the whole summer.”
Not since Pitino’s first year with the Gophers had his players been in a local pro-am. The Howard Pulley league that previously hosted top college, professional and high school talent ended a two-decade run in 2013. The Twin Cities Pro Am attempted to pick up the slack last summer, but it didn’t have NCAA certification until this year.
Diggs knew he could take his league to another level if he was able to get current Gophers players involved. Diggs met with Pitino and his assistants last week to make sure the league met the school’s compliance standards. Gophers coaches aren’t allowed to be in attendance, but they hoped to get specific U players paired together.
Washington and Jordan Murphy, returning junior All-Big Ten forward, came straight from workouts at the U. All eyes were on them as they walked into the gym just before the first game started. Gophers starting center Reggie Lynch and Murphy both had double-doubles Monday. But they took a back seat to Washington’s crowd-pleasing game.
On three consecutive possessions in the second half, Washington dribbled around and scored against different defenders who wanted a chance to shut him down. Eventually, former DeLaSalle and Wofford guard Cameron Rundles tried to do his own version of a “Jelly” finger roll on the opposing team. He pointed to Washington, who laughed from the bench.
Murphy, Lynch and Mason shined in their Pro Am debuts, showing why Pitino had a 16-win improvement and NCAA tournament appearance last season. Freshman Jamir Harris, a shooting guard from New Jersey, also showed off his deep range, scoring 23 points in his debut.
But Washington generated the most excitement on a night when Gophers hoops was again the main attraction.
“I really didn’t get see him, because I was walking around making sure things were in order,” Diggs said. “But I’m sure I’ll see his highlights on Twitter.”