Our cameras caught a moment Sunday, which begged for a comment.
“That’s a hug between a point guard and point guard right there,” I said.
Penn State’s Coquese Washington and Alex Bentley embraced in a championship bear hug, just moments after the Lady Lions clinched a share of the Big Ten title.
Point guard to point guard, only begins to explain their journey.
Washington was a former point guard at Notre Dame. Like any good quarterback, she could recognize who she wanted as her floor general to build her program. She targeted Bentley, a guard out of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, one of the top prep programs in the country. Bentley was recruited by schools like North Carolina, Texas and Purdue. At the time, Penn State just finished the 2007-’08 season, Coquese Washington’s first, on a 12-game losing skid. But Bentley took a leap of faith on a coach who had one year of head coaching experience, a 10th-place conference finish, and a 4-14 Big Ten record. No titles. No winning records. Just a promise and a challenge: Help us return Penn State to a championship.
“She wasn’t always disciplined on or off the court,” Washington laughed when describing Bentley’s style as a freshman. “Her talent allowed her to do things she could get away with, but now she has become a much smarter player.”
With that evolution, Penn State became a winning program. After four-straight losing seasons, Bentley’s class sparked a change. The 2009-’10 team finished 6th in the Big Ten, with a 17-14 record, and it continued to build from there. Washington points out this five-person senior class has willed this program back, “After years of losing and no postseason, in year one with that class, we had a winning season and went to the WNIT. Every year we have gotten better. It’s tough to put into words the level of impact they’ve had.”
She doesn’t have to. Banners and trophies will do that for her. Sunday, Penn State had its first back-to-back titles since 2004. It has been a collective effort throughout, but the senior point guard has paced the push.
“I love coaching her,” Coquese beamed. “I can yell at her, challenge her, I can celebrate with her.”
A month and a half ago, Washington’s father, James, lost a battle with a handful of different health issues. On January 7th, he died at the age of 70. It was just one day after the Lady Lions defeated Michigan State in East Lansing, a game where Washington had about 90 friends and family in attendance. The Flint, Mich. native never went home with her team after that game. Those around her Dad felt like it was an important time for her to be there and to be close. So as her team flew back to Pennsylvania, Washington stayed in Michigan, and spent her last few moments with her father.
When she returned to campus, her point guard was one of the first to come to her side.
“Alex helped me through that time,” Washington said. “Just talking to me. The way she responded to me. And the way she reached out to me. I think of her as a friend.”
Last spring, Washington looked hard at the Michigan women’s basketball job when it opened. Ann Arbor is just a short drive from her family and friends in Flint. In the end, Washington said she couldn’t look a player like Bentley in the face and tell her thanks for taking the chance on me, but I’m going to take a chance on something else.
“This is my home now,” Washington nodded. “I have roots here. And that’s important to me.”
Washington’s mother now lives in State College. Her husband, daughter, and son hop along the charter flights to many of their road trips.
Sunday was one of those times when her immediate and adopted basketball families could celebrate. Bentley is just one of the many pieces, which have come together to create that championship moment…..including the one our cameras caught.
The point guard and point guard hugged.
The Player and Coach.
The Friend to friend.
The thank you and you’re welcome.