<
>

Leonard Washington now a game-changer

12/13/2011

Leonard Washington has always played hard-nosed basketball, but in Wyoming, he has softened his stance on at least one issue.

While with USC, the 6-foot-7 forward not-so-famously declared to the Los Angeles Times at one point that he would "never talk to the media again. I'll pay fines in the NBA if I have to."

It made some sense because at many times during his career as a Trojan, there weren't positive things to discuss. There was the low blow he gave Blake Griffin. There was an academic suspension. There was coach Kevin O'Neill ultimately dismissing him from the team.

At Wyoming, Washington after redshirting last season has not only talked to the media, but also spoken volumes with his play as he leads a defense that has only allowed 49.9 points per game. The junior went through enough coaching changes to have played and practiced under five head coaches, and for Larry Shyatt, he has collected the most rebounds and blocked shots out of all the Cowboys.

Washington's transformation has Shyatt rightfully excited about the future of the program, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

"I see a guy that's helping change our culture because he's on edge and he’s got a toughness and competiveness about him," he said.

But Washington’s teammates do see the football side of him.

"He's an aggressive player and an emotional player, but I think that’s what makes him such a good player," senior center Adam Waddell said. He can tap into that football mentality and you can definitely see it.

"He's not afraid of contact at all. He gets in there and uses his body, and that sets Leonard apart."

Credit Shyatt for getting the Cowboys off to a 9-1 start, which is tops in the Mountain West. The schedule they've played hasn't been especially challenging, but wins are wins for this program. Consider that after Shyatt's arrival, the team's top two scorers made the decision to transfer.

But the remaining players have bought into what Shyatt is preaching. Guard Luke Martinez is leading the team in scoring averaging 13 points after missing all of last season with a broken elbow. The injury-plagued center Waddell is averaging 10.8 points. Point guard JayDee Luster is playing like a senior and has only committed nine turnovers against a team-best 43 assists.

And then there is Washington, who embodies how Wyoming can change and all of a sudden become a contender in the Mountain West.