Blocking a Bad Path

One of the top young players in the state of Minnesota, Kyle Washington had the talent, the character and the moxie to be a top Division 1 player. The only problem was he didn't have the grades. Thanks to a tough decision to pick and move to the East Coast, Washington now has everything college coaches could want.

LAKEVILLE, CT - He's rated among the top centers in the country and is on the top of dozen of college coaches' recruiting wish list. But before he could even think about blocking shots or hitting jumpers, Kyle Washington knew that he needed to get his academics in order.

"I needed something different because what I was doing wasn't working as well as I wanted it to," he said.

The Hotchkiss School is an independent boarding school located here in northwest Connecticut, a beautiful piece of land that sits at the edge of the Mt. Washington State Forest and Wononskopomuc Lake that challenges even the most sophisticated GPS system.

Hotchkiss is an hour removed from any major highway but it seemed like worlds away for Washington and the comfort level he enjoyed at Benilde St. Margaret's in Minneapolis. That was his problem, though, in the fact that he was too comfortable and had trouble taking academics as seriously as his interior game.

So he decided to not only make the move 1,300 miles east, Washington decided to reclassify as a 2013 graduate, allowing him to have the opportunity to grow .

"It was a tough decision, but it's one that I am glad that I made," said Washington. "It's really changed my life."

The motto of the Hotchkiss School is simple – the college prep school strives to develop in students a lifelong love of learning, responsible citizenship, and personal integrity – and was something Washington bought into from day one because of head coach Fred Benjamin.

A former basketball and lacrosse player at Vanderbilt and member of the USA select basketball team in the summer of 1990, Benjamin had the background that Washington needed. Not only could Benjamin teach him what he needed to do on the court, but Benjamin – a former Athletic Director at the St. Thomas School in New York and the Academic Dean at The Hudman School for girls in Florida – could push him off the court, as well.

"He worries about academics first and basketball second because he knows his players can play basketball," Washington said of Benjamin. "We have a really good team but guys understand that it's not all about basketball when you come to a school like this.

"The school is really challenging academically and athletically. After being here for two years, I will be ready for college, so I won't have to redshirt and make an immediate impact."

Not only did Washington develop as a basketball player over the past season, averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks a game, he was put into the position of being a team leader, another new experience.

The results were a twofold success. Washington improved his low post and perimeter game by adding 20 pounds (he's now 6-9 and 215 pounds) and helped his team put together an 11-game winning streak. As good as that has been for his game, he's prouder of his work in the classroom, improving his grades to a B-minus average.

"I want people to make sure they know I am not here to just play basketball," said Washington. "I think that's helped me approach the game differently. I want to get to a point where people see me as a leader and a winner on and off the floor. I am willing to do anything to win, and I think that's a big responsibility to have every game."

Washington's dedication to himself has earned him enough respect where he has college coaches trekking through Northern Appalachians just to make the presence known. Even though he says his recruitment has slowed down since the move to Connecticut, Washington has Baylor, Central Michigan, Drake, Iowa State, Florida, Louisville, Marquette, Miami, Minnesota, Penn State, Xavier, West Virginia and Wisconsin all offering him a scholarship.

Washington hasn't come out with a list of favorites, but he does tip his hand when he talks about the affinity he has for the coaching staff at the University of Wisconsin. Since offering Washington at the school's advance camp in June 2011, associate head coach Greg Gard has made the trek to Hotchkiss and Washington visited the Badgers in early March, one of the few campus visits he's made.

"I really enjoyed seeing coach Ryan, coach Gard and Jordan (Taylor) because of all the great things they have done at Wisconsin," said Washington. "It was really nice being there on Senior Day to see him honored."

Washington continues to label the Badgers' coaching staff as the group of coaches that are the most personable – sending him handwritten letters and a birthday card for his 18th birthday last August. Just last week, Washington said he spoke to Gard for 30 minutes on the phone for what he called ‘just an honest conversation.'

"The support and dedication is there from them and I really love that about him," Washington said. "I've been really fortunate to get that support from a program like that."

After spending a year at the prep school, it's easy to see that Washington's priorities have changed. Although he's planning on doing his fair share on the AAU circuit for Howard Pulley, Washington said he refuses to ‘overstretch' himself and lose on the academic progress he's made.

When school ends June 8th, Washington will be at the NBA Players Development camp at the University of Virginia, the Amare Stoudemire skills camp and the LeBron James skills camp.

"I don't want to compromise anything at this point because I am in a good position with my grades," said Washington. "I'll listen to what my camp is telling me and what the people behind me are telling me. I'll be in camps and different events, but it'll be a fun summer."

This summer will also be memorable for Washington because he plans on making his final decision before the start of his senior season. By the time school starts, he wants to know which five schools will get an official visit. Actually, he wants to figure out the four other schools he is visiting.

"I don't see Wisconsin falling out of my top five, so I definitely see them being heavily involved," said Washington. "I haven't even made my top five yet, but I know Wisconsin is one of them (laughing). They've seen what I can do and they really believe me, which is a big part in how I am going to make my decision.

"The way they run their program, the way the coaches treat me and the way Wisconsin is, it would be really dumb not to put them in."

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