Washington trusting the process at Dayton, ready for his opportunity

Sophomore forward saw limited minutes last season until seeing role expand in postseason

Dayton Flyers sophomore forward Kaleb Washington is a big NBA fan.

If Washington had to pick an old-school favorite player of all time, he’d go with Tracy McGrady. If he had to pick a current player, he’d go with Jaylen Brown, of the Boston Celtics. Both players are near his height. McGrady’s 6-foot-8. Brown is 6-6. Washington falls right in the middle at 6-7.

Washington also looks up to Anthony Edwards, the Minnesota Timberwolves star, who’s from Atlanta, like Washington. Washington, two years behind Edwards in school, has known of Edwards since he was in eighth grade.

“I saw him when he was not known and becoming known,” Washington said earlier in this month an interview in the Skuns Room at the Cronin Center. “I saw his process.”

Edwards was the nation’s third-ranked recruit in 2019, according to Rivals.com. He burst onto the scene as a freshman at Georgia and was the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.

Washington, of out of Wheeler High School, was also a high-ranked recruit — No. 101 in the 2021 class — but he received little playing time as a freshman: a total of 63 minutes in 15 games. He scored 15 points.

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DaRon Holmes II and Malachi Smith, two other members of Dayton’s 2021 recruiting class — the highest-ranked class this century at Dayton — combined for 727 points. Lynn Greer III, the fourth member of the class, scored 27 points in 10 games before transferring to Saint Joseph’s in January.

Washington did not play meaningful minutes until the National Invitation Tournament when Dayton needed help in the rotation with Smith sidelined by an ankle sprain. He had five points in 12 minutes in the first round against Toledo and missed his only field-goal attempt while playing a season-high 16 minutes in an overtime loss at Vanderbilt.

“I was really just staying relaxed and being ready for my moment,” Washington said, “and I was ready.”

Interviewed after the Toledo game, Washington said similar things. He also was eager to say then he had no plans to leave Dayton after the season. Knowing fans were already speculating about his future because typically the players in the program who play the least enter the transfer portal after the season, Washington volunteered the information that he wanted to stay.

Washington’s thinking didn’t change after the season.

“I love it here,” he said. “The coaches told me to just be ready and trust the process.”

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The goal now is to compete for playing time next season. He has seen progress in summer practice.

“I’m doing a lot better,” Washington said. “I’m competing a lot more. I’m being more physical, getting stronger. Getting in the weight room has helped a lot.”

Washington has put on 16-18 pounds since arriving on campus in June 2021. He measured 190 on the roster last season. He said he weighs 195 now. He wants to weight 208. He said that was McGrady’s weight.

“I’m eating five times a day every single day,” Washington said. “I’m taking vitamins, drinking protein shakes, lifting weights.”

Washington lives with third-year guard R.J. Blakney in the apartments just down the street from the Cronin Center. If they’re not eating in their room, they’re eating the food strength coach Casey Cathrall puts out for the team in the film room. Like many of his teammates, Washington credited Cathrall for many of his gains.

Washington said Cathrall explains everything they’re going to do before they do it and how it will help them. That’s not only in the weight room but at the kitchen table. Washington has learned how to eat from Cathrall.

“Before I came here, I had bad eating habits,” Washington said. “I always ate a lot of sweets, stuff I shouldn’t be eating. When I got here, Casey just put me on a new diet, eating a lot of healthy stuff like potatoes, spaghetti, chicken, bread. I’m drinking a lot more water and protein shakes. It’s helped me grow as a person.”

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The improved body has helped Washington strengthen his defense.

“I’m bumping people out of the way,” he said, “and being able to stand my ground if someone’s trying to bump me.”

If Washington does earn playing time, he expects defense to be his strength because of his length and athleticism. Also, he said, “I feel I have a high IQ. I can pass, rebound. Shooting, dribbling. I feel my shot’s going to be a lot better this year because I can shoot off the dribble now. I try to be an all-around player.”

Finding playing time on a team that returns all five starters and seven of its top eight scorers won’t be easy. Washington knows how good Dayton could be in the 2022-23 season.

“It’s the same team with better experience,” he said. “I feel like we’re going to be in the top 25 if we keep working and trusting coach Grant and our coaches.”

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