Did Leonard Washington derail his career?

May, 16, 2012
5/16/12
4:30
PM ET
You may remember Leonard Washington from his time at USC. More specifically: You may remember Washington* from the time he hit then-Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin in the crown jewels back in 2008. That was a funny episode, particularly because Washington tried to deny what happened after the fact. Then-USC coach Tim Floyd's money quote on the subject: "He's a freshman. He doesn't know that we film everything." Apparently not.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Washington
AP Photo/Matt CilleyThe productive play of Leonard Washington had Wyoming thinking about an NCAA tourney berth in 2012.
In any case, Washington had come a long way since 2008. He transferred to Wyoming, and in 2012 he starred in his first season under new coach Larry Shyatt, leading the team in scoring (12.9 points) and rebounding (6.9 rebounds) while posting sterling shooting percentages and the 11th-best defensive rebounding rate (27.4 percent, per KenPom) in the country. Wyoming went 21-12 in 2012, its best season in ages; for a while there, the Cowboys even flirted with the NCAA tournament bubble. Washington was a major reason why.

Unfortunately, Washington's individual progress may be coming undone. In early April, Shyatt suspended Washington indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules. Then, two weeks after that suspension, Washington was arrested and charged with battery and criminal entry during which, according to the citation, he admitted entering a house "without permission from the occupants and striking an individual with a closed fist during a fight." He pleaded guilty to both counts Tuesday, receiving fines and suspended jail time as well as up to a year of unsupervised probation.

The mundanities of the arrest are less important (for our purposes, anyway) than what they could do to Washington's career. The forward was already on indefinite suspension when he was arrested; that's no way to get back in your coach's good graces. Making all this worse for Shyatt is how much he needs Washington in 2012-13. The Cowboys are trying to build momentum under their new coach, but losing your best and most productive player -- in addition to the three senior starters that graduated this spring -- makes an already difficult task monumentally so.

It is no exaggeration to say that Shyatt's handling of Washington -- whether he suspends him for the summer, or dismisses him from the team, or sits him down for a stretch in the winter -- could determine the outcome of the fledgling program's season. It's a fine balance to walk, and Washington can only hope his coach is the forgiving type. Shyatt gave Washington his second chance. Does he deserve a third?

*I, for one, will never be able to hear "Leonard Washington" without thinking of the "Chappelle's Show" character. Like all good Dave Chappelle characters, it will stay with me forever.

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