The Basketball Tournament: Miami University grad playing for championship with Team 23

Eric Washington, a key player for RedHawks from 2013-15, scored 16 points in TBT quarterfinals

Credit: Ben Solomon

Credit: Ben Solomon

Eric Washington almost turned down the invitation to play for Team 23 in The Basketball Tournament. It’s a hard decision for many pro basketball players because there’s always an injury risk and there’s no guarantee of a payday. His dad Kelvin, a big fan of the tournament, convinced him to play.

That looked like a good sound choice Sunday as Team 23 advanced to Tuesday’s championship game at UD Arena with a 78-62 victory against Blue Collar U.

The 6-foot guard Washington, a two-time captain for the Miami RedHawks (2013-15), was asked Monday after the team’s final practice what it felt like to be so close to the $1 million prize.

“Honestly, I don’t really feel nothing,” Washington said, “because if anything, more money brings more problems. I’m just trying to stay focused and appreciate the moment. It’s exciting. It gives you a little extra motivation. Plus, you’ve got everything on ESPN.”

The TBT uses the Zelle banking app to put money in the accounts of players and coaches from the winning team immediately after the game. It’s up to each team to figure out how to divide the winnings.

Washington has played an important role for Team 23. He’s averaging 5.6 points, 2.4 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game in 14.3 minutes per game.

In a 78-71 quarterfinal victory Saturday against Sideline Cancer, which lost in the TBT championship game in 2020, Washington scored 16 points and made all seven of his field-goal attempts.

“I’m just glad that I was able to deliver for my team,” Washington said after that game. “It was a team effort. I just wanted to be a piece to this puzzle.”

The opportunity to play for the team came because Washington knew the coach, Marc Hughes, from Atlanta, where Washington has spent a lot of time since college. Hughes coached Overseas Elite to the TBT championship in 2018 and is the winningest coach in the history of the tournament.

Team 23′s roster includes players from all over the map — Auburn, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Utah to name a few — but Washington is the only player who spent time at an Ohio college.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Washington, who’s from Columbia, S.C., began his career in his home state at Presbyterian College, averaging 7.2 points in two seasons. He decided to transfer to Miami and sat out the 2013-14 season.

In his first season on the court in Oxford, Washington averaged 14.0 points and ranked 25th in the nation in assists per game (5.5). He was an All-Mid-American Conference second-team selection as a redshirt junior and earned an honorable mention a year later. He owns two of the top-10 single-season assists totals in Miami history: 176 in 2014-15 (fourth most) and 138 in 2015-16 (tied for 10th).

What bothered Washington about his career at Miami was the losing. Miami finished 13-19 in his first season and then 13-20. However, he said attending Miami and playing for the RedHawks helped him as a person and a player.

After college, Washington first took his game to Europe, playing in Cyprus. He almost made the training camp roster for the Toronto Raptors in the fall of 2017. After he got cut, he went to Bosnia and then to Hungary for three years. He’s going to play for Aix-Maurienne in France next season.

“I always tell people my redshirt year is what helped me become a pro,” Washington said. “That’s where I was able to see the game from the outside in. It just helped me focus different. I had time to focus on my body and work on my game. It just took off from there. It prepared me for where I’m at now.

“Obviously, the school is a great school. I got my degree, and I still have a lot of great friendships up there. Hopefully, we can get it going someday because there’s something good up there, and I just want more people to know about it. It was a good experience. It introduced me to Ohio. I didn’t really know much coming from the south. It just showed me a different part of the world.”

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