It seems former McGehee basketball star Michael Washington's banner season has some new fans signing his praises.
Recently reclassified as a junior and thus a 2006 prospect instead of a 2005 one, Washington (6-10, 225) is now rated as the top junior in the Lone Star State according to TexasRoundball.com.
He's done so by averaging 25 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks this season for Cleveland Heritage Christian and head coach Russell Johnson.
"He's just become a monster on the court who can absolutely dominate a game," Heritage head coach Russell Johnson said. "In fact, I know he is going to play in the NBA. The only question I have is whether he will stay more than one or two years in college. If you have seen him play before, you won't even recognize him That's high much better he has gotten."
That's high praise that Washington doesn't take lightly, but loves to hear.
"That brings a big smile to my face and makes me want to work even harder because people believe in me and tell me what a great future I can make for myself," Washington said. "I was really pumped about being named the number one junior in Texas, but think I have earned it because of all the great guys I have gone up against."
That's all good news for University of Arkansas coaches, who seem to be primed to land Washington for the 2006 class even though Arizona, Texas and Texas Tech have recently joined Oklahoma and Oklahoma State recruiting him.
He tells me he is planning on going to Arkansas and that is where he wants to play," Johnson said.
Washington said that is indeed his intention, but it's not yet official.
"I really like Arkansas and their coaches have showed me a lot of love," Washington said. "They've stayed in contact with me and that's where I am planning on playing. But I won't really commit until after the summer or sometime like that."
Some of those include Durrell Arthur and Chris Roquemore - two other top junior Texas big man prospects in the 2006 class, Memphis Mitchell junior standout Thad Young and 2005 top prospect Gerald Green of Gulf Shores Academy.
"He has taken on all those guys head-to-head and played their butts off, coming out on top on most occasions," Johnson said. "He really has turned a lot of heads down here with his play. He went man-for-man against Young and they both had 25. He also outplayed Durrell Arthur and basically took that number one player tag from him here in Texas."
Arkansas coaches were on hand to see him go up against several of the aforementioned prospects in the Low Down Classic held right after Christmas in Houston.
Heritage Christian has played tournaments in Texas and Florida this season and will be in Jackson, Miss., at the end of January for a prep team tournament featuring four squads.
"I think the Arkansas coaches love the fact that we travel all over the place and he gets to play against much better competition than he would have if he had stayed in Arkansas to play this season," Johnson said. "Going against a great player every night has made him raise his game up several notches."
Washington has always been a shy young man, but has shaken some of that off on the court.
"He's still shy and is one of those kids that won't say anything unless you say something to him, but he has changed his demeanor on the court," Johnson said. "You can see on his face about two minutes before each game how he is getting ready mentally to try and dominate. He has no shyness on the court anymore and that's because of the better competition he is going against every night."
Not to mention the extended practice time that Washington gets at Heritage Christian Academy.
"We get up every day at 6 a.m., eat and go to school," Washington said. "Then we practice every day from 2:45 until 7:30. The first few days I thought it was going to kill me, but it's nothing now. I''ve really built up my endurance."
Washington said he made the switch for two reasons - to become a better basketball player and a better student.
"It is really helping me learn how to work hard in the classroom," Washington said. "We don't really do anything but practice, play and study. Cleveland is a small town and there is not a lot to do and mostly we just stay around here. That has helped me get very focused on my books and it's helped me so much to be here."
But Arkansas fans will get a chance to see the new and improved Washington a couple of weeks earlier when the Wings compete in The Real Deal on the Hill, an AAU tournament featuring some of the best talent in the country that Mike Conley, Sr., is bringing to Fayetteville.
"That's going to be fun to get up there and play at Bud Walton Arena," Washington said. "A lot of people will get to see just how much better I have become."
Washington has had a chance to see a few Razorback games this season and has one wish for the future.
"I sure would like to play with Ronnie Brewer," said Washington, who hopes Brewer sticks around for his senior year so the then-freshman Washington could play alongside him in 2006-2007. "He's just a great player and I would love the opportunity to play with him."
Washington's Thinking Arkansas
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