Although the COVID-19 pandemic may have felt like a pause for many student-athletes, the break gave Duane Washington Jr. an opportunity to reflect and amend.
The junior guard has been one of Ohio State’s most prolific shooters and scorers — averaging almost two 3-pointers and 11.5 points per game in the 2019-20 season. With a mindset of scoring dominating Washington’s play style his first two seasons, the Michigan native said he has grown as both a basketball player and person to prepare for the upcoming season.
“I had a lot of time to self-reflect and grow up a little bit and just understand some of the things my freshman and sophomore year I felt I could have done better,” Washington said Friday in a Zoom call.
Washington said he returned home at the beginning of the pandemic, where he worked out and trained with his father. Having a full-court gym at home, Washington’s desire to become stronger was fulfilled by going to the gym every day and sometimes multiple times a day.
Working on the mental side of his game, Washington said he also had time to watch a lot of film over the past seven months.
Watching current NBA guards such as Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving, Washington said he saw players that were able to play smart and be versatile on the court, and it catalyzed his change in mindset.
“It’s never been the fact that I can’t do everything,” Washington said. “It’s mentally I got to understand that this decision is better than that decision. Basketball is a game of choices.”
Reflecting on his own tape, Washington said he uncovered mistakes in making the right play during his first two seasons with the Buckeyes.
“All that stuff was hard for me to understand during the time. Still to this day I don’t know why, but looking at it now, I have a totally different view on it and I think that’s for the better,” Washington said.
In terms of the drive to be more mature, Washington feels it was a necessary step in his progression.
Touching on deep conversations he had with his parents, Washington said he realized he needed to grow as a person to be able to take the next step on the basketball court.
“You’ve got to be mature to be the guy that takes the tough shots at the end of the game. You’ve got to be mature to be the leader on the team,” Washington said. “Mentally and physically, you’ve got to be ready for all the challenges, all the different defenses they throw at you, so all those kinda things are set in stone into my brain now.”
Although Washington has pushed to be more than just a scorer, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said the junior does not need to be a pass-first point guard.
But Holtmann said that the guard will still have to work hard on his recognition of opposing defenses.
“He’s earned the right to continue to grow in that area,” Holtmann said Friday in a Zoom call. “I do think he has to read defenses a little bit better as he’s playmaking for us.”
Along with an improved understanding on the offensive end, Holtmann said he has challenged Washington to grow on the defensive end — an area in which the team will need players to step up with the departures of Andre and Kaleb Wesson.
“My challenge for Duane is to grow in that area of defense and just continue to be him,” Holtmann said. “He took major steps last year. You look at his step from freshman to sophomore year, it was significant.”
Washington’s running mate in the backcourt, fifth-year senior guard CJ Walker, said that he has been hard on Washington.
Noting that Washington has improved in the offseason, Walker said that he sees an opportunity for his teammate this season.
“I can most definitely see him being a consistent, leading scorer for us,” Walker said in a Friday Zoom call. “He can score the ball and get hot really fast, and it makes the game a lot easier for me getting him involved, spacing the floor out and things like that.”
Washington said he has mentally prepared himself to take on the challenge of being an upperclassman and having an increased role amid recent departures in the program.
As far as what he wants to do on the court throughout the 2020-21 season, Washington said he will do whatever the coaches ask him to do.
“Finding other ways to affect the game, whether it’s just my presence on the court or it’s me passing the ball or it’s me being the communicator — all these things go into it, and that’s what I’ve been working on this offseason to become a better player all-around instead of just focusing on scoring and stuff like that,” Washington said.