First-round NBA pick? Bills' Adolphus Washington might've had a shot

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He was the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year for boys high school basketball in Ohio, following in the footsteps of recent first-round NBA draft picks LeBron James (2003 and 2004 winner), O.J. Mayo (2005 and 2006), B.J. Mullens (2008) and C.J. McCollum (2009). Michigan State expressed interest in him early in his high school career. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins "loved" him. Cincinnati and Butler both recruited him, and perennial NCAA tournament contender Xavier offered him a scholarship.

It's the sort of résumé one would expect scouts to have examined at last week's NBA draft combine in Chicago, but the basketball accolades are mere footnotes to the football career of Buffalo Bills third-round draft pick Adolphus Washington.

The burly, bearded defensive lineman was a two-sport star athlete at Cincinnati's Taft High School, winning an Ohio Division III state title in basketball in 2011 before focusing on football and helping Ohio State take home an NCAA national championship in 2014.

Had history been different and Washington chose basketball, his high school hoops coach, Mark Mitchell, says his former pupil would have his name called at next month's NBA draft.

"He would be drafted," Mitchell, now an assistant women's basketball coach at Ohio State, told ESPN by phone last week. "He would probably be one of those 'need' players. He would probably go late first round, early second round. He would be drafted by somebody like the [Golden State] Warriors, somebody like the [San Antonio] Spurs. Somebody like the [Boston] Celtics.

"He would be with somebody like the [Minnesota] Timberwolves -- young, they're tracking more toward spacing and execution and having somebody physically tough who can rebound the basketball and stretch things. Somebody like the [Miami] Heat. He would be today's Udonis Haslam. That's who he would be. He would be like that."

Mitchell first met Washington when he was a "heavy-set" sixth-grader visiting a Taft basketball practice with his father, Adolphus Sr., who was friends with one of Mitchell's assistant coaches. Weight restrictions in Pop Warner steered Washington toward basketball as early as the fourth grade, and by the time he transferred from Cincinnati's Roger Bacon High School to Taft for his sophomore season, Mitchell knew he had a special hoops prospect.

"He has the best footwork of any kid that I've been around -- post player or guard," Mitchell said. "He has an uncanny ability to change levels, from low to high, without losing any power, without losing any speed, without losing any quickness. He does a really good job with his footwork."

After winning an Ohio state title, Taft's hoops squad headed to Ft. Myers, Florida, in December 2011 for the City of Palms Classic, considered one of the country's best high school basketball tournaments. Washington was named a second-team all-tournament selection after averaging 21 points. Even at 6-foot-3, Washington held his own against 7-foot-1 Grace Prep (Texas) center Isaiah Austin, who was considered a first-round selection in the 2014 draft before a diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome cut his basketball career short.

"DD played unbelievable, as a matter of fact, in that whole tournament," Mitchell recalled, referring to Washington by his nickname. "DD's always just had a great ability just to play the game, and play against big-time players and develop on big-time stages."

The big-time stages -- which also included a high-school game against future No. 1 overall NBA draft selection Andrew Wiggins at Huntington Prep (West Virginia) and AAU meetings with Kyrie Irving, Derrick Gordon, Doron Lamb and others -- helped Washington attract the attention of major-conference programs. Michigan State showed interest in Washington before it became clear he would pursue football, while Huggins also took a long look at Washington for West Virginia.

Huggins, according to Mitchell, was impressed with Washington's ability to extend his shooting range, handle and pass the ball, and read the court.

"Then [Huggins] liked his physicality," Mitchell recalled. "Just tough, could rebound the basketball. He was the modern day Charles Barkley."

Had Washington grown a few inches taller, following the same path as Barkley wouldn't have been out of the question. NFL scouts measured Washington at 6-foot-3 and 3/8 inches at February's NFL combine, which would have made him the shortest forward at last week's NBA combine. At 6-foot-6, Barkley was an undersized NBA forward but still nearly three inches taller than Washington.

Washington's lack of height likely played a role in his decision to focus on football, despite some basketball interest from Ohio State and Louisville, as well as Xavier's scholarship offer.

"Basketball was never an option after a certain point," Washington told WGR 550 earlier this month. "I'm not gonna say I didn't consider it at all, but after a certain point in high school, I kind of knew that for the rest of my high school career I was playing basketball just for the fun of it, just to play with the guys that I grew up with."

"Here's the thing: As you get older, you start to realize where your success, your greatest success, is going to lie," Mitchell said. "He kind of figured that out. His dad had a little more of an influence on him. He didn't make him choose but he was able to kind of communicate with him in terms of understanding what's going to be the best for him long term. He chose football."

Mitchell isn't a stranger to football. He was an offensive lineman for Eastern Kentucky University in the late-1980s, and for two of his seasons, 1987 and 1988, Mitchell sat in countless offensive line meetings with a graduate assistant who had a knack for making players laugh. That young coach's name? Rex Ryan.

"I [told Washington], 'You're going to a guy who is really, really good. He's a good guy,'" Mitchell said of Ryan. "I said, 'He's gonna work with you, he's gonna motivate you and he's gonna push you.' And I said, 'You couldn't have went to a better guy, because he's gonna put you in a situation where you can be successful. He's gonna work with you and help you be successful at the same time.'"

General manager Doug Whaley already expects Washington to be an opening-day starter along the Bills' defensive line. Mitchell believes the Bills are a good fit for his former basketball star, but Mitchell and many of Washington's friends still tease him about his decision to choose football over basketball.

Hoops could still be in Washington's future. About a month before the NFL draft this spring, Washington sat down in Mitchell's office at Ohio State and told his former coach he wanted to coach basketball after his NFL career is over.

"I looked at him and I said, 'Really?'" Mitchell recalled. "He said, 'Yeah, I want to coach basketball. I think I could really, I got some things I could offer some kids.'

"I said, 'Hey, brother, have a long career, and then you come on back and you help us the best you can.'"