Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Hours After Death of Close Friend in Car Crash, Iona’s Jordan Washington Fuels Gaels Run to NCAA Automatic Bid
ALBANY, N.Y. — About three hours before stepping onto the court at Times Union Center for the MAAC Championship game on Monday night, Iona’s Jordan Washington learned that a close friend and former teammate of his had been killed in a car accident.
Patrick Parker, a 6-foot-1 junior guard who was Class of 2014 at Queens College, was killed on his way back from the school’s women’s championship game in Washington, D.C. on Sunday.
Iona coach Tim Cluess, who first revealed the news to ESPN’s Jay Bilas and later spoke with SNY.tv, did his best to counsel Washington, a 6-8 junior big man from Jamaica, N.Y.
“[He] is up in heaven watching,” Cluess said to Washington, the coach told SNY.tv. “Basketball’s the best escape for you and you know what, do this in memory of your friend tonight. He’s playing there with you and watching this, so do it for him as well.”
Washington then went out and overpowered Monmouth in the paint to the tune of 15 points, 13 rebounds and 3 steals as No. 2 Iona knocked off No. 1 Monmouth, 79-76, to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Washington scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the second half when Iona (22-10) outscored Monmouth 49-42. The Hawks (27-7) lost for the first time this season after leading at the half (22-1).
After it was over, Washington stood on the scorer’s table, clenching his fist and exhorting the Iona fans.
“He played terrific, I’m so proud of him emotionally keeping it together after that happening and playing the way he did,” Cluess said of Washington.
Washington has had an emotional season, to be sure.
He was suspended two games in January as a result of his slap of Monmouth’s Chris Brady during the handshake line after Monmouth’s victory over Iona on Jan. 15.
Washington said his goal all along was to help get senior guard A.J. English to play in in his first NCAA Tournament. The Gaels lost in the championship game to Manhattan the last two seasons.
“A.J. came up to me in the hotel and told me to play hard, keep playing and rebound,” Washington said. “That’s why he recruited me here. He told me come here and win him a championship. That’s what I told him I was gonna do, win him a championship before he leave.”
On top of Washington losing his friend the day of the game, Cluess said Aaron Rountree’s great-grandmother also passed away Sunday night.
“He got a call last night as soon as we got back to the hotel,” Cluess said.
This is not new territory for Cluess.
A Star-Ledger story from a year ago revealed that Iona’s Isaiah Williams had lost 24 friends to street violence.
“We’ve unfortunately seen a lot of that and I tried a reference with Jordan Washington when I was a junior college coach and we went away to the Nationals on that trip, one of my player’s friends was pulled out of a car and beaten to death,” Cluess said. “So the same thing, the kid was a mess, we dealt with it and he ended up being the MVP of the tournament. We won the tournament and he did that in honor of his friend.
“And I was hoping Jordan would be able to respond and he was so mature he was able to do that tonight.”
BILAS, COACHES SAY MONMOUTH DESERVES AN AT-LARGE
The MAAC hasn’t had two teams make the NCAA Tournament since 2012, when Loyola and Iona both went.
It could happen for a third time this year but Monmouth must sweat it out until Selection Sunday to see if they get an at-large.
“I think we should but it’s not up to me, it’s not up to my teammates,” Monmouth’s Je’lon Hornbeak said after going for a game-best 20 points. “It’s not in our hands right now since we didn’t win.”
ESPN’s Jay Bilas and both coaches said Monmouth deserves an at-large.
“No-brainer. Thirteen road wins, 17 road/neutral?” Bilas told SNY.tv. “If they don’t get in, it’s a really bad message in a year SMU and Louisville can’t go. Really bad.”
Iona’s Cluess concurred.
“I definitely think they deserve it with the year they’ve had,” he said. “I expect them to get in.”
And of course Monmouth coach King Rice thinks his team deserves a chance.
“I would love to be able to coach in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “I think our kids have earned a right to play in it.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.