Former Lake Wales Coach Washington Moves on To Focus on Education
Sun. July 08, 2012 at 3:49 a.m. | By Solange Reyner
Billy Dee Washington will be a Dundee administrative assitant while pursuing his doctorate. (Photo by MICHAEL WILSON | THE LEDGER (FILE))
By SOLANGE REYNER
LAKELAND | During his five years as the head basketball coach at Lake Wales, it's clear to many that Billy Dee Washington left big footprints.
But he's walking away from coaching for now to focus on continuing his education and getting back on his feet after he resigned from Lake Wales in late April.
Washington left the school after an incident in which a 17-year-old girl was injured by another student in the gymnasium where he was working.
"It's kind of hard because everywhere I go and everyone I talk to try to convince me that I should pursue coaching again," said Washington, 33.
"But right now, I will not be a head coach unless it's an unbelievable situation."
Instead, Washington will start work as an administrative assistant in Dundee at the Donald E. Wood Opportunity Center, an alternative behavioral management school. He also said he'll pursue his doctorate.
That suits Washington, considering how he taught a young group of high schoolers to dream big.
When undersized point guard Russel Wilson was told by naysayers that he wouldn't be good enough to play at a Division I program, Washington told him to work hard, play to his strengths and focus on winning as a team.
"He said, ‘Someone is going to notice you,'?" said Wilson, who will play this year at Samford University in Alabama, a Division I program that competes in the mid-major Southern Conference.
Some kids were less fortunate, from backgrounds where money wasn't always available, even for lunch on summer ball trips.
Washington or his coaches picked up the tab, not making it a big deal because everyone on the team was family.
Some had problems with goofing off, which Washington nipped in the bud quickly, making sure his kids understood when the appropriate time was to have fun.
"One year, he kicked us out of the gym because we were playing around. Everybody thought he was joking," said Oshey Washington, who played under Washington until he graduated in 2011.
"He didn't yell or anything. Everybody left and the next day at practice we came back and we were focused. It didn't happen again."
The team bought into what Washington was selling: improvement and wins.
"Some of them had rough edges, for sure," Burney Hayes, Washington's uncle and assistant coach at Lake Wales, said.
"And when you can get kids who have a rough edge to buy into what you're selling, that's when the athletic ability turns into championships and champion adults. Billy was able to transcend the children's expectations."
In the physical spotlight, that notion was evident twice. Washington led the Highlanders on a phenomenal run to the Class 5A FHSAA state championship this year, destroying teams en route to the title behind a stifling defense. The year before, the team went 31-3 and finished as the state runner-up.
There was barely time for the euphoria to wear off when the incident happened at Lake Wales that led to his departure.
"It's unfortunate what happened at Lake Wales," Washington said. "But I wish the best for all parties involved."
For him, moving on was important. Washington said he won't attend basketball games at the school but will watch the team if they play at other venues. He's still involved in his players' lives, though.
Washington has gotten calls and texts from college coaches recruiting Douglas Brooks, a rising senior. He also is running the Each 1 Teach 1 Polk AAU summer ball team, where all the Lake Wales players, minus Brooks, will be competing.