Dwayne ‘Pearl’ Washington more than just a great Syracuse basketball player, he was Syracuse basketball

It was fall 2011, my freshman year move-in day at Syracuse University, and the line of cars waiting to unload at Flint Hall stretched down Comstock Avenue and into the parking lot of the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.

Needless to say, I went in, and for about five minutes I enrolled in a Syracuse Basketball 101 refresher course: Boeheim and Bing, Carmelo and Coleman, Hakim Warrick and his block to seal the 2003 national championship.

Then there was Pearl — Dwayne Washington — the schoolyard legend from Brooklyn with an infectious smile and legendary crossover. He was the guard who traveled upstate in 1983 and took college basketball by storm; the kind-hearted kid who later became a father figure to generations of SU basketball players.

In the summer of 2015, Washington was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died Wednesday at the age of 52.

“We’re a close-knit group when it comes to the ‘Cuse basketball family, but Pearl is like the godfather, the one everyone looks up to,” former SU guard Eric Devendorf told me last week. “He means the world to SU and the program. He can never be replaced or outdone.

“He is the face of Syracuse basketball, if you ask me, besides (coach Jim Boeheim). He’s the one who got the program to where it is today.”

After arriving on campus, SU students learn about Washington as almost this mythical, spiritual figure. Who’s this guy getting the loudest ovation at the Carrier Dome? Who’s this guy my dad talks about? As a basketball fan, I knew of Pearl’s Big East clashes with Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin.

But those SU students who don’t watch the montage that plays before every men’s basketball home game and learn quickly: there’s Pearl hitting a half court buzzer-beater against Boston College in 1984. There he is in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, as announcer Bill Raftery says in the highlight, “in the lane with a kiss.”

Washington arrived at SU three years after the Dome opened and ESPN began to broadcast Big East games. He was the perfect player — passionate, brash — for the new era. He earned All-American honors in 1984, 1985 and 1986, finished fourth on the school’s all-time assists list and had his No. 31 jersey retired in 1996.

Brendan McGeever — a student at Le Moyne College in Syracuse in the early 80s — attended the now-classic game against B.C., in which the Orangemen and Eagles were tied at 73 with seconds to go in regulation after B.C. missed a free-throw.

“We were in the top level of the Dome, straight behind the B.C. basket,” McGeever recalled last week. “It was a great game already, but Syracuse was not going to come out on top. When the B.C. player missed the free throw, we were all so excited. Overtime! But Pearl had a different idea…

“From where I was, I saw him take one or two dribbles and let it fly. We never expected it to go in. It was as if time stood still … (Then) the ball went through the basket.”

In recent years, the soft-spoken Washington became a father figure and program ambassador who carried himself with a calm, cool demeanor.

“I remember him coming up to me my freshman year when we played at Madison Square Garden and just telling me to go out and do my thing,” Devendorf said. “Hearing those words from the man who started SU basketball meant more than you could know. It gave me supreme confidence.”

Former Syracuse center Craig Forth, who started on SU’s 2003 national championship team, told me last week about a time he, Washington and Roosevelt Bouie — another former SU player — spent almost four hours at a Pizzeria Uno near the SU campus.

“I still have a picture of that up in my house,” Forth said last week. “Pearl was a constant presence. You didn’t miss him when he came through. Everyone was looking to see him and talk to him and celebrate him for what he was to Syracuse basketball.

“He was one of those guys you got to know his legend while you were there, in terms of his stories and everything that occurred. He’s someone you tried to be like. He understood and appreciated the family atmosphere that’s generated at Syracuse.”

During their improbable run to the Final Four this season, SU players donned warm-up shirts that read “PEARL” across the chest in Syracuse’s signature script font.

My only interaction with Pearl came in February 2013 when I was writing an article for The Daily Orange, SU’s student-run newspaper, on the school retiring Carmelo Anthony’s No. 15.

As an upcoming journalist, I didn’t have sources connected to Washington, so I reached out through several back channels. I tried everything, and finally reached Pearl after getting in contact with a friend of his whose name I heard mentioned during a radio interview.

Pearl was nothing but gracious. He treated an 18-year-old kid at a college newspaper like, well, a Sporting News reporter. I sat at the desk in my dorm room and spoke to him on the phone for 15 minutes. I even had to call him back to get clarification on something.

To me, Pearl was, is, and forever will be Syracuse basketball. I just hope the Dome continues to play those Pearl highlights before games. In the lane with a kiss.

We’ll miss you, 31.

Source: MSN Sports

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