Washington quietly powers top defensive unit in GLIAC

GVL / Hannah Mico. Darren Washington (junior) prepares to make a free throw in the second half of the Lakers game against Findlay.

GVL / Hannah Mico. Darren Washington (junior) prepares to make a free throw in the second half of the Lakers’ game against Findlay.

Jay Bushen

The top overall scoring defense in the conference this season has been anchored by a 6-foot-8 shot-blocker affectionately known as “Chief.”

Junior center Darren Washington, the only center on the Grand Valley State University men’s basketball team, is proving to be a disruptive presence in the paint for a stingy Laker defense that is allowing just 65.1 points on average through 10 games.

“We expect him to defend, rebound and play with enthusiasm and passion,” head coach Ric Wesley said. “Good things happen when he does that.”

Washington has brought Division I size to an undersized GVSU roster since transferring from Robert Morris University after his freshman season. He currently leads the team with seven blocks.

He may not be filling the stat sheet with his 4.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, but then again, no stat accurately quantifies low-post intimidation.

Opponents simply appear more content to settle with jump shots when the big man is lurking down low.

“Most big guys are lumbering, slow-moving and low-energy guys quite often,” Wesley said. “But Chief plays with a lot of energy and emotion. His teammates rally around him when he’s on top of his game.”

Washington picked up the nickname when an assistant coach at Robert Morris compared his playing style to NBA great Robert Parish, an excellent defender with a smooth jumper.

The junior has shown flashes of his offensive potential, but his game is far from flashy.

“On offense I try to be an enforcer, like in hockey. I go out there and hit other guys,” he said. “When I get open on the pick and roll, I can score with a layup or by hitting a 10-footer.”

Washington is also a dependable shooter at the free-throw line. He has knocked down 17-of-23 from the charity stripe this season, which is good enough for the third-highest percentage (.739) on the team.

Still, his primary role seems to be providing a spark with his physical prowess.

“He brings a lot of leadership, and he’s the biggest guy on our team,” junior forward Chaz Rollins said. “He’s a presence in the middle, whether he’s blocking shots or rebounding.”

GVSU (9-1, 5-1 GLIAC) switched to a different look in its most recent pair of games, with Rollins replacing Washington in the starting lineup, but the center was noticeably supportive of his roommate.

Chief was the first player off the bench to stand up and vocally support Rollins for every big play he made.

“Chaz brings lot of energy when I’m slacking in games, and vice versa,” Washington said. “The same with (sophomore forward Ricky Carbajal). We all pick each other up.”

Wesley has been getting the most out of his bigs so far as the trio has combined with freshman forward Trevin Alexander to form a defensively stout rotation with 23 blocked shots.

Washington’s contributions figure to be a key piece to the puzzle for the up-start Lakers in 2014. He said he thinks the team will continue to improve after the impressive start.

“This team can definitely make a run to the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “Obviously our number one goal is to win the GLIAC, but we just have to take it one game at a time.”