Thursday, April 21, 2016

Goodbye to the Pearl and the golden age of Big East Basketball

It's been a big news day.
The Cavaliers winning their playoff game and of course the Browns trading down in the first round with Philadelphia,but another news item brought back memories.

Dwayne "Pearl" Washington passed away at the age of 52.
Washington had announced last summer that he had a brain tumor and was undergoing surgery in an attempt to remove it.
Washington was known for his ankle breaking crossover move and was one of the early stars of the Big East conference in the early to middle 1980's,
I remember those days as almost every team had a star player and the games were so physical and demanding that each game had an almost draining feel to them.

Washington was a three time All-American and three time all-Big East and his showmanship and skills made the most emulated on playgrounds and gyms around not only the conference footprint,but also country wide as a result of an up and coming network known as ESPN,which showcased the Big East constantly.
Pearl wasn't exactly a great shooter (which would come back to haunt him in the NBA) or a plus defender,but his ballhandling skills brought to mind about any great dribbler of the past.
Washington was more of a pure point guard than a scoring guard,but could penetrate to the hoop with the best guards as his stocky build allowed him to bull by defenders when he couldn't outspeed them (Washington wasn't known as a burner) to drive the lane and lay it up and in.
Pearl's game didn't lend itself to the NBA,too slow to defend and the players were better suited to defend him off the dribble,forcing his always erratic outside shot and taking away his offense.
Washington was through after two years as a New Jersey Net (13th overall pick) and a season with Miami after being picked in the Heat's expansion draft.

Growing up during this time as a basketball fan was a great time.
This area was a crossover area as we saw all the games from the ACC syndicated network because of Maryland,but we also received the Big East slate of matchups too because of Georgetown.
Those teams in the Big East had their shares of players that became great pros in Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin but they also had players that were excellent college players that were just professional role players like Villanova's Ed Pinckney or even players that weren't able to reach that modest height like Washington and St.John's Walter Berry,a transcendent college player that didn't have the athletic ability to be the same player in the NBA.
Still,as I noted above,every game had this inner city mentality that featured a physical game that the more gentlemanly ACC never could match in sheer intensity,
I never truly had a favorite team in the Big East,although I suppose in hindsight,I probably rooted for Seton Hall and St.John's more than anyone else,but I always had time to watch their games and their stars.

I truly loved college basketball back then,a game not populated by one year players or polluted by bloated conferences put together by finances rather than for regional pride.
I'm not sure I'll ever get that love back.It's like a special love that was so torrid that it never again can be the same.
But,the memories are always there and it's always fun to look back at players from that age-like the flashy game from a point guard from Syracuse.....

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