It’s hard to think of a more exciting prospect to come to the University of Minnesota men’s basketball program than Isaiah Washington, the four-star point guard from New York City.
Washington, who started what amounts to a mini-brand with his “Jelly Fam” social media buzz, gave his first media interview since arriving in the Twin Cities for the fall semester on Friday.
“I picked Minnesota because I wanted to start my own legacy here and prove to kids that you don’t have to go to these big-time schools to be successful,” Washington said.
NBA stars came to his games at St. Raymond’s High School in the Bronx, and he has become something of a next-generation star in the basketball world, with more than 373,000 Instagram followers (@jellyfam_dimes), despite not yet playing a single college game.
His rise to fame is due in part to his home: New York City. After growing up in Harlem and having the chance to play at any prep school in the nation, he instead stayed in New York and was named Mr. Basketball in the state this past season.
“He has a lot of that New York City flair to him, kind of the old school, throwback New York City point guard that they haven’t really had in a couple years,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s a dynamic player, a great kid, wants to win, you know so he’ll be fun. It will be good for him to kind of learn under Nate [Mason] and then I think he’ll be a terrific player.”
Washington was asked if he wants to follow in the footsteps of former NYC stars such as Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair.
“It would be great to be like them,” he said. “But my goal is to be better than them and have a better legacy than them.”
When asked about being named Mr. New York Basketball, Washington didn’t hide his happiness.
“Getting Mr. Basketball in New York City was the greatest accomplishment I ever got in my life,” he said. “Just to have that plaque and be written down in history as one of the top players to ever play in New York City is truly a blessing.”
At St. Raymond’s, he averaged 26 points and six assists per game, but he said that isn’t his main style.
“I like to pass first before score, but my role on my high school team was to put the ball in the basket so that was why I was averaging so many points,” Washington said. “But this year and this upcoming season I’m going to be averaging a lot more assists.”
Coming to Minnesota
Washington gave the most credit to his development as a player to his uncle, Daniel Gray, and Roosevelt Byers, his AAU coach for New Heights.
It was the connection between New Heights and Gophers assistant Kimani Young, who used to be the director of that program, that landed Washington here.
But Washington also said that following Pitino’s style was a big selling point.
“I mean, Pitino lets his guards play,” he said. “That’s one of the big reasons I came here. He’s going to push me to that next level and hopefully, God willing, I can make my dreams come true.
“He likes to play fast. This year we’re not going to run too many sets, it’s going to be a lot of open-court play and it’s going to be lit.”
One big question is whether Washington will play alongside Mason or behind him, as Mason averaged 15.2 points, 5.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds last season and is expected to be the senior leader this year for the Gophers.
But Washington said he’s excited for any opportunity.
“Playing with and against Nate Mason is great,” Washington said. “He is a leader, our floor general, and I’m just learning a lot from him, the little tweaks in the game and what to do and what not to do is going to be great. Hopefully me and him can play together this season.”
Asked if he plans to start, Washington didn’t hesitate. “Oh yeah definitely, I believe so,” he said. “I didn’t come here to do anything but start.”
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org