When the final seconds ticked off the clock of the last game of the 2017-18 basketball season for the Cincinnati Bearcats, there was a great deal of sadness to go around. Yes, the fact that the Bearcats collapsed in their second round matchup with the Nevada Wolf Pack in the NCAA Tournament was the main culprit, but once the shocking disappointment of that loss receded, there were other things to be upset about. The simple fact was three stars were no longer going to play for the Bearcats.
Part of college athletics is saying goodbye. Whether its to one-and-done freshman standouts or four-year stalwarts you could always rely on, when you root for a college team, you always have to let players go. (And go root for them at the next level. Let’s go Jacob Evans and the Golden State Warriors).
For the Bearcats and their fans, they have to get ready to start a new season in a few weeks and they have to do so without three of the best players the program has employed in the Mick Cronin era. Those players are, of course, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and the aforementioned Evans. We will be looking at what losing each player means and how the Bearcats can adjust over the next three weeks. Today, we will start with Washington.
What the Bearcats lost
Washington only played two seasons for the Bearcats after transferring over from NC State, but he made quick work of becoming a critical member of two 30-win teams. A starter from the first time he put on a Bearcat uniform, Washington teamed with Clark to form an exceptional frontcourt tandem.
Defense was part of the package with Washington, as he posted at least 2.0 defensive win shares in both of his full seasons with UC. He was a good help defender, who rotated well and protected the rim. His block percentage of 7.0 was a career-high last season and don’t get me started on his personal best defensive rating of 88.0.
But every Bearcat big man can play defense. What made Washington really special was what he brought to the table on the other end. Even if he never averaged more than 12.9 points per game, he always had 20-point potential and with his unique post moves and ability to space the floor with three-point shooting, he was a critical part of the offensive equation. He shot 35.7 percent from three as a Bearcat and had back-to-back seasons with PERs above 20. His offensive rating never slipped below 110 either.
Who needs to step up in his absence?
The Bearcats still have depth up front, but there isn’t anyone on the roster who has the exact same type of skill set as Washington. Like I said, losing Washington is a tough thing to deal with.
Unfortunately, Mick Cronin can’t just wish himself a new Washington. Instead, he will turn to some other players to pick up the slack. Nysier Brooks seems like the solid candidate. The 6’11” junior from Philadelphia is finally ready to be a starter. As a reserve last year, Brooks averaged 3.6 blocks per 100 possessions, which just happens to be the exact same number Washington had. Taking that coincidence aside, Brooks has already shown that he can rebound and defend fairly well. For him to really become the next Washington, the offense has to arrive. He may never be a volume scorer, but if Brooks can make shots near the rim and develop a few post moves, he could at least form a small facsimile of Washington’s offensive game.
Another player from Philadelphia may be the answer to the Washington departure problem. Freshman LaQuill Hardnett doesn’t have Brooks’ size (6’8”), but he has more raw offensive talent. Cronin is always able to get players to buy-in on defense, so having a guy who already has a talent for scoring could go a long way.
How difficult will it be to replace him?
Relatively high. Brooks might be able to replicate the defense to a degree and Hardnett could be a great scorer eventually, but both have glaring weaknesses they need to work on and, perhaps most critically, neither has the type of range Washington developed.
What did he do after leaving UC?
Washington got a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers and played in Summer League, but he did not make it onto a NBA roster. Instead, he is playing overseas for Yalova Group Belediye Spor, a professional team in Turkey.