Some freshmen drive coaches crazy. Gabrielle Washington might drive Sacred Heart to a championship.
The 5-foot-9 guard from Mesa, Ariz., never even stepped foot on the Pioneers’ Fairfield campus before verbally committing, and outside of a few uncomfortable days this winter adjusting to snow, everyone is glad Washington is here.
“She has the right attitude and right disposition, nothing really rattles her,” SHU coach Ed Swanson said. “That’s important for a freshman.”
The first-place Pioneers (19-6, 12-2 Northeast Conference) already had a superstar to build around in senior forward Callan Taylor, but Washington’s arrival has made it double trouble for opponents. Through her first 23 games, Washington was 14th in the NEC in scoring (11.9 ppg) and has been a four-time recipient of the conference’s Rookie of the Week award.
Washington has scored 20-plus points four times, including back-to-back outings against Bryant, which earned her the most recent honor. She poured in 21 and then a NEC single-game rookie-record 27 points, respectively, during the conference’s rivalry week right after coming back from missing a couple games while being sick.
In other words, her transition from big-time scorer in high school to big-time college scorer has gone rather smooth.
“She has a scorer’s mentality,” Swanson said. “That’s what I liked about Amanda Pape and people that put the ball in the basket in high school, sometimes it’s just like `this is what I do.’
“We knew from the opening day of practice she’s going to play, and when she gets into a rhythm, she’s an aggressive offensive player who still has a lot of room to improve.”
Washington, who starts at shooting guard, is quick to spread the wealth when it comes to her success.
“I love this team so much and the bond we have is so close, win or lose,” she said. “I won’t be where I am without them.” Washington has followed a steady stream of players who have come into Swanson’s program and made an impact as freshmen. Pape did it, followed by Kaitlin Sowinski, Alisa Apo and Taylor.
“When you do a lot in high school, you score a lot, you rebound a lot, you’re the best player — sometime you’re used to being the best player,” Swanson said of Washington, who was a three-time regional player of the year at Desert Ridge High. “She’s not a player you have to coach up and say `you’re really good.’
“She does have confidence, but it’s not a cockiness.”
Basically, she has what coaches call “it.”
“She’s not a finished product, but I think she has the right mindset to be,” said Swanson, who listed ball-handling and defense at the top of the to-do list. “Pape, Taylor — (Washington) has their mindset, too.
“If there’s a player on the team I’m on the most, it’s probably her because I think she has a very high ceiling.”
Some might consider a player verbally committing to a school sight unseen as different, but coming off ankle surgery following her junior year, Washington wanted to make sure her future was sound. The Pioneers’ coaching staff had already seen her play, offering her a scholarship that Washington verbally accepted in July 2011.
“We took that very tentatively (her verbal) and said `come out here August first, you are from Arizona, make sure this is what you want,'” Swanson said. “She and her mom came out and they liked what they saw.”
Perhaps the lone drawback to playing on the other side of the country for Washington, besides the snow, is her mother — and best friend — Mia Washington doesn’t get to see her often enough.
Growing up in a single-parent household, Washington developed a strong bond with her mom. Since she couldn’t take her mother to college, Washington has her grandmother keeping tabs on Mia back home.
“My mom and me are very close, she’s always been there for me,” she said. “She’s always watching me (in games) and sending me texts during the game.”