Shanay Washington and Brittney Griner shared the same goals and aspirations when they joined the Baylor women’s basketball team in the fall of 2009.
They joined guards Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden to form a recruiting class that would help the Bears to the NCAA championship last year. But while Griner, Hayden and Madden aim for a national championship repeat as seniors, Washington sits at the end of the Lady Bears bench, wearing street clothes.
Washington, a former Del Valle star, “retired” last season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in the closing seconds of a February game against Texas. She heard a pop while chasing a loose ball, a sound she has heard time and time again. During her basketball career, Washington tore the ACL in her left knee three times, the one in her right knee twice.
“As soon as I hit the ground, I knew it was over,” Washington said Friday, recalling the moment she collapsed to the court at the Ferrell Center.
Washington’s story was not supposed to end this way. She aspired to join Griner, her roommate and best friend, in winning a national championship.
For the first time since she played at the Montopolis Recreation Center while in elementary school, Washington no longer is part of an active roster. As a special assistant to Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, Washington has “a different relationship” with the women she used to call teammates.
“It’s sort of an authoritative role,” Washington said.
Mulkey, who said she considers Washington one of her “all-time favorite players,” offered to insert the 6-foot-1-inch forward into last season’s NCAA championship game in Denver — an 80-61 victory over Notre Dame — if the Lady Bears had a sizable lead in the final minute. Washington, who underwent her fifth knee surgery roughly a month before that game, declined her coach’s offer.
“I had left it all on the floor (during the Texas game) and didn’t want to have to go through all those emotions again,” she said.
Said Mulkey: “Shanay will always have a special place with this program, and she has played a large role in the success of this senior class, both on and off the court. To go through what she’s gone through injury-wise and continue to remain positive and optimistic shows what a special person Shanay is.”
Washington will graduate in May, a laudable achievement for someone who has gone through the rigors of college basketball and the rehabilitation associated with three ACL injuries during her time on campus. Her first knee injury happened during her sophomore season at Del Valle, her second during her junior season.
When Baylor faces Texas on Saturday, Washington, who aspires to coach someday, will keep a close eye on Mulkey, absorbing knowledge like a “sponge,” she said. Washington might even offer a couple of pointers to Griner, her roommate. It has been Griner’s ritual to sit next to Washington on the bench whenever she is not in the game.
Washington and Griner, a 6-foot-8-inch force who has developed into the most dominant player in women’s college basketball, became best friends after they arrived at Baylor. On Oct. 18, Washington’s mother, Tina, hosted a birthday party for Griner in Del Valle.
“Brittney has been there for me after every surgery (in college),” Washington said. “And we almost never talk about basketball. The awards she’s won are just decorations to her. She doesn’t talk about records.”
Texas at Baylor
Noon, 1300, FSSW
About this game: Fussell has totaled 53 points in the past two games, lifting her season average from 13.2 to a team-leading 14.5 ppg. … Although Baylor coasted to a 75-48 victory over Texas on Feb 9 in Austin, McGee-Stafford pulled down 18 rebounds. … Texas (10-15, 3-11 Big 12) had five starters score in double figures for just the second time this season in Wednesday’s 93-83 victory over Kansas. Fussell scored 26 points, her fifth game of 20 points or more this season. … Davenport has scored in double figures five straight games. … This marks Baylor’s first game since the Lady Bears topped No. 3 Connecticut 76-70 Monday night in Hartford. Griner had 25 points, giving her 3,000 for her career. … Baylor (25-1, 14-0) ranks No. 1 in the country in field-goal percentage (.504) and second in scoring (81.5.).