Big Ten

Kornacki: Washington in Familiar Territory at Michigan

May 13, 2016

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May 13, 2016

Saddi Washington
During his 10 years with Oakland, Saddi Washington helped the Golden Grizzlies to five 20-plus win seasons.

By Steve Kornacki

ANN ARBOR, Mich.Saddi Washington‘s eight-year-old son, Caleb, had a reaction to his father being named to the University of Michigan basketball coaching staff that cracked up Saddi.

“When we told the kids I was going to Michigan,” Washington said, “the kids were shocked, happy and excited all at the same time. But then my son grabbed my phone and said, ‘I’m calling Poppa! I’m calling Poppa! Poppa gonna be mad at you!'”

“Poppa” is Stan Washington, a standout basketball player at arch-rival Michigan State a half century ago.

Saddi continued the story about his father and son:

“Caleb’s thinking that I’m at Michigan, and that’s not right. But my dad told him, ‘No, it’s a good thing. This is a great opportunity for your dad.’ I’ll never forget that, and it tickled us all. He and our 13-year-old daughter, Sidney, have always visited my parents in Lansing and seen all the Michigan State stuff.

“Both my parents (Veda and Stan) went to Michigan State. But when I was able to break the news to them, they were over-the-top ecstatic. I’m still their son first regardless of where I’m coaching, and they know where I’m at, what a place this is.”

His father, a 6-3 guard-forward, was ranked the No. 30 basketball player in Spartans history in 2011 by the Lansing State Journal. He averaged 18.0 points and 10.5 rebounds for his career, leading the team in rebounds in each of his three varsity seasons. Stan was voted team MVP as a junior and senior, and was a three-time All-Big Ten selection.

Saddi spent the last 10 seasons as an assistant at Oakland University and was the associate head coach to Greg Kampe the last seven years. He was named along with former Wright State head coach Billy Donlon on May 4 as replacements for LaVall Jordan and Bacari Alexander, who became head coaches at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Detroit Mercy, respectively.

“Saddi and I have known each other since his days at Western Michigan when I coached against him,” said Wolverine head coach John Beilein. “We also have talked a lot of basketball in my nine years here at Michigan.

“Saddi is an outstanding teacher of the game, and I love that he can coach multiple positions. He has established great relationships as a recruiter both in and out of the state of Michigan. His poise and presence remind me of LaVall, and I know he will be a great asset to our program.”

Washington said, “I’ve always been pretty even keel, especially off the athletic playing field. I try to observe, and through life experience I’ve seen that the best leaders are able to make rational decisions in peace time and in war time, when things are chaotic around you. That has allowed me to stay the course and not let the situation dictate my emotions.”

He interviewed for Michigan’s staff six years ago, when Jordan and Alexander were hired.

“For whatever reasons,” said Washington, “six years ago wasn’t the right time for me to be here. Even though I was certainly prepared and qualified, I told (Beilein) during this process that six years ago I was hoping to get a job. But fast forward six years later, and I know that I belong at this level. I know that I’m ready to operate in this space. I told him, ‘You’re getting a lot more seasoned coach.'”

He’s excited about finally working with Beilein.

“There aren’t a lot of head coaches who make themselves available to assistant coaches,” said Washington, “but he was always welcoming. We hit it off early being at games together on the recruiting trail. We’d always find ourselves sitting next to each other, talking about players. It was easy to build a good rapport with him.

“He has an unbelievable reputation around the country for being a great coach. So, for me, this is an awesome opportunity. I hope one day to run my own program, and I’m really excited to learn from someone like Coach B.”

The Golden Grizzlies averaged 20 wins per season during his decade and went to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011 after winning Summit League regular-season and tournament championships.

Washington built the reputation for being a strong recruiter in helping Kampe put Oakland on the map. I asked how he connects with people.

“I’ve been extremely blessed to start my career at Oakland and extremely fortunate to continue here at Michigan. I think it’s going to be fun, and I’m excited to go about it. We’re fired up.”
— Saddi Washington on his new role at U-M

“It’s all about authentic relationships,” Washington said. “People connect with authenticity, and I can only be myself. I have an ability not only to connect with the prospects but their parents and coaches. And I’m a former player who is still young enough to get out there and mix it up (in practices).”

Washington, 40, was a first-team All-Mid-American Conference selection, averaging 21.6 points as a senior at Western Michigan in 1998, when he led the Broncos to an NCAA Tournament upset of Clemson.

He played minor league basketball before moving onto France, Israel and Italy and went to NBA training camps with both the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, becoming the final cut one year with the Jazz. Hard-nosed Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan coached Utah, which had superstars Karl Malone and John Stockton.

“To play and practice against those guys, who were at the tail end of their careers, helped me grow unbelievably as a player in the weeks I was around them,” said Washington. “Malone, Stockton and (Jeff) Hornacek all had a way they looked at the game, and I watched it from their perspective. Their professionalism on a very veteran team made an impact on me because it spoke to their longevity. It was an awesome experience.

“My agent told me when I went to the Jazz that I had to be ready to learn under Jerry Sloan. We learned three or four new sets. But in terms of learning how to deal with the hard-nosed guys, that started back with my father. He was my worst and hardest credit. And Bob Donewald at Western Michigan was a fiery guy.”

Donewald assisted Bob Knight and was part of the undefeated national championship team in 1976.

“My players will tell you that I’ll get after it,” said Washington. “I’m not calm all the time. When there needs to be a good chewing-out session, I don’t have a problem delivering. A lot of times you save those for the big dog (head coach), though, because we’ve got to hit and hug as assistants.

“But I’m super competitive.”

Washington was a guard who’s primarily coached perimeter players but branched out to coach Oakland’s post players last season.

“I know that I will have my hands on the bigs,” said Washington. “But the cool thing about being here with (assistant) Coach (Jeff) Meyer and Coach Donlon is that we’ve all been through the trenches enough that you can move the parts around and we’ll still be okay.”

Kampe hired Washington after he’d retired as a player and had spent just once season coaching as a volunteer assistant at Romulus (Michigan) High.

“Coach Kampe means everything to me,” said Washington. “I mean, he was the one who gave me an opportunity to coach at the collegiate level when a lot of other people would not have given me that chance. He’s been a tremendous mentor, an awesome influence, a great friend, a great coach to learn under with a great offensive mind. We were normally in the top five or 10 in the country in scoring.

“Coaching is trial and error. I’ve been extremely blessed to start my career at Oakland and extremely fortunate to continue here at Michigan. I think it’s going to be fun, and I’m excited to go about it. We’re fired up.”

Caleb’s on board, too, after having that talk with “Poppa.”

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