Ron Washington’s love for the game of basketball started when he was just a toddler, just out of diapers.
“I was 3 years old and in day care in Jersey City,” said Washington, the Snyder High School senior. “And I got a basketball in day care and started dribbling it all around the room. I couldn’t stop bouncing that ball all day. That’s when I fell in love with the game.”
It didn’t hurt that Washington had basketball in his bloodline.
“My cousin helped me for hours,” Washington said. “He worked with me every day for three summers in a row. I was like 9 years old and out of shape. I needed help from my cousin.”
It helped that Washington’s cousin was Obie Nwadike, the former St. Anthony standout who went on to have a great career at Central Connecticut State, played four years professionally overseas and has since returned to Central Connecicut as an assistant coach.
Washington also has an older brother, Ernest, who played college football at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.
“They told me what to do and set a high margin of what I should do,” Washington said of his brother and cousin. “I was going to try to live up to them.”
Washington first attended Dickinson High School, but didn’t find the surroundings comfortable.
“I didn’t know if I would fit in well there,” Washington said. “I didn’t know if I was going to play.”
Washington’s family moved from the Jersey City Heights to Bayview Avenue in Greenville. He was also a good friend of Snyder basketball players Isaac Neal, Jr., who was a First Team Hudson Reporter All-Area selection last year, and Kenyon Goodson, so that helped with the transition into becoming a member of the Tigers’ program.
“I basically grew up with Isaac Neal and he told me that I could play here,” Washington said. “I also grew a lot.”
Washington skyrocketed from 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-7 within a two-year frame.
“As I grew, I continued to work on every aspect of my game,” Washington said.
“I knew him as a kid,” Snyder boys’ head basketball coach Shelton Gibbs said. “Ronald was always a hard worker who plays hard and works hard on his game.”
When Washington joined the Snyder roster after sitting out the 30-day mandatory period instituted by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), he averaged nine points per game.
“He basically played half the season,” Gibbs said. “I saw him play and he was raw. After the season, he dedicated himself to become a better player. He spent a lot of time in the gym and in the weight room, working hard to become an all-around player.”
How much? Well, we’re going to reveal a side to Washington that perhaps Washington doesn’t want to promote.
“After it got dark outside, I used to sneak into gyms in order to play,” Washington said. “Me and Kenyon used to do that over the summer.”
Sure, get his teammate into trouble as well.
“I really had to work on the other parts to my game,” Washington said. “Before last summer, I wasn’t able to dunk.”
That was also a motivation for Washington. He also spent the summer months playing for the Jersey City Boys Club 17-and-under team, coached by local coaching guru Frank Burno and played in the AAU circuit, an elite team that featured such talented kids as Jagan Mosely, R.J. Cole and Shyquan Gibbs of St. Anthony (who just happens to be the Snyder head coach’s son) and Brandon Anderson of Don Bosco Prep.
“Ronald played center on that team,” the elder Gibbs said. “To play with that much talent every day really helped him. It was a great opportunity for him to play. I knew he was going to get better.”
All of the activities in the summer truly helped Washington become a better player. He developed an outside jump shot, which he didn’t have before.
“He can shoot the three [3-point shot],” Gibbs said. “He’s a force on the boards. He rebounds the ball, puts the ball on the floor and goes. Once in a while, we use him in the backcourt. I’m very proud of him. He’s worked hard and dedicated himself. You could see him getting better and better. He was coming along.”
In the past week, Washington has more than come along. He has exploded onto the Hudson County basketball scene with fury and a vengeance.
Try these numbers on for size: Washington had 20 points and 24 rebounds in a 63-46 win over Bayonne. That opened some eyes. Then Washington had 24 points and 19 rebounds (to go along with three more steals and three more blocks) in a 71-54 win over Marist, dismantling a team that started the season ranked in the Top 20 in the state.
Finally, Washington had 28 points and 21 rebounds (along with three blocks and three assists) in a 73-54 win over Memorial. There’s no doubt that the kid is for real now.
And for his efforts, Washington has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
In the 30-plus years of honoring Hudson County athletes, there has never been one more worthy of the honor than Ron Washington.
“I always wanted to be the one to be on the back page of the newspaper,” Washington said.
Well, he’s not back page material for The Hudson Reporter, frankly, because sports never gets to the back page, but he gets Athlete of the Week attention, because he’s averaging 16.9 points and 15.1 rebounds per game this season.
“He just makes the whole team around him that much better,” said Shelton Gibbs, whose team now owns an 8-4 record after the three straight Hudson County wins. “He’s really worked hard to earn whatever he gets.”
“I’m a late bloomer,” the affable Washington said. “Getting 20 rebounds against Marist [in reality, he had only 19] really helped my confidence. They have three guys over 6-foot-5. It’s helped my defense, because I’m trying to get like three or four blocks a game. I wanted to be someone that people talked about, take my game to a different level.”
Washington is also a beast in the classroom. He currently owns a 3.4 grade point average and is a member of the Honor Roll and the National Honor Society. Washington also attained a 1280 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests.
College basketball coaches, take note. This kid is the real deal. He’s a steal for the right coach.
“In my 30 years of coaching at Snyder, I’d say he’s the best rebounder I’ve ever had,” said Gibbs, who was a standout performer in his own right at St. Peter’s College. Gibbs still ranks fourth on the Peacocks’ all-time scoring list.
“He’s matured a lot and he’s gotten much better,” Gibbs said. “I still believe he’s going to grow a little more. His grades are good. His scores are good. I think he’s ready.”
“Coach Gibbs has talked to me a lot about it,” Washington said. “Coach Gibbs has given me the freedom to take the three [3-point shot]. As long as I work hard, I can take them and make them.”
Washington is seven-of-nine this season from beyond the arch.
One last thing that Gibbs has given Washington freedom to do. He can now dunk.
“Coach Burno called time out in a game over the summer and told me to dunk,” Washington said. “He said, ‘You can do it, so just do it.’”
Washington threw the ball down with authority with two hands.
“I was up there, but I wasn’t that high,” Washington laughed.
Although Washington doesn’t have a host of college offers (Dominican College in New York is the lone Division II school and there are no D-I offers to date), he knows he wants to play in college.
“I imagined someone would eventually find me,” said Washington, who wants to major in education in college to someday teach high school English and coach basketball. “I like being around kids. I like being around kids, the interaction between them and adults. That’s what we try to do here at Snyder. We try to inspire others.”
And Washington’s ultimate goal?
He wants to take Gibbs’ spot as head coach when Gibbs is ready to step aside.
“That’s still in a few years,” Washington laughed. “I have things to do before then. We can finally make a run here.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.